Regulator fast-tracks 1QBit’s X-ray software to help fight COVID-19

1QBit's offices | submitted

What happened: Regulators have approved the use of radiology software developed in Vancouver

Why it matters: The nod for the AI-powered tool was expedited after developers realized it could be applied to COVID-19

Perhaps mirroring the speed at which quantum computers operate, Health Canada has given swift approval for made-in-B.C. medical software that can help in the battle against COVID-19.

1QB Information Technologies Inc. (1QBit), a quantum-computing software company based in Vancouver, got the official nod from regulators Wednesday (April 8) to deploy its new xrAI chest radiology tool.

Following expedited clinical trials in Saskatchewan last month, 1QBit submitted its image-recognition software to Health Canada and got the greenlight in eight days.

The AI-powered tool examines X-ray images and highlights abnormalities for physicians, helping them better identify patients with respiratory complications such as SARS, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

But in late February, the team at 1QBit used the tool to examine PDF X-ray images of COVID-19 patients featured in a medical journal and found that the algorithm could help identify abnormalities radiologists may have missed.

“Most people with coronavirus are dying from pneumonias, and so if you look at it and you can identify pneumonia then your capability to triage that patient appropriately and to aggressively provide treatment changes,” 1QBit chief medical officer Deepak Kaura, a pediatric radiologist, told Business in Vancouver.

“Because our technology gives the front-line physicians the empowerment to improve the accuracy of their initial interpretation, then this is a tool that would be extremely useful.”

Clinical trials were not set to begin for eight to nine months, he added, but the pandemic accelerated that schedule after the tool had been in development for two years.

The clinical trials that ensued were not based on retrospective studies.

“What the traditional retrospective studies will do is look at the data that was obtained in the past and ask people to make decisions based on the past,” Kaura said.

“This time we were actually looking at real-time data that was coming out … and saying, ‘Hey, how would you manage this patient? Is this normal or abnormal?’”

Kaura, who likened xrAI to a “co-pilot” for physicians, expects the Saskatchewan Health Authority to deploy the tool “very soon.”

1QBit is best known for quantum-computing software that specializes in chemistry and finance.

The xrAI tool (pronounced “X-ray”) is the company’s first medical product.

“The interest for us has always really stemmed from what eventually we’re hoping quantum computing will be relevant [to],” 1QBit president Landon Downs told BIV.

“This has one of those overnight-success appearances, but quite a bit of work went into it.”

Last year, 1QBit partnered with Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT) for the latter’s new Azure Quantum offering.

Azure Quantum’s tools are aimed at making quantum computing more mainstream for developers and customers, and 1QBit is the only software partner involved.