RadNet’s UK Lung Cancer Screening Acquisition

RadNet advanced its AI-led cancer screening strategy, acquiring a 75% stake in Heart & Lung Health, a UK-based teleradiology network with a direct connection to the NHS’ lung cancer screening program.

Heart & Lung Health (HLH) has a network of over 70 cardiothoracic radiologists, and provides teleradiology reporting services for the NHS and a variety of UK hospitals and academic institutions.

Acquiring a UK telerad company might seem out of character for RadNet, which has historically focused its M&A on US-based imaging centers (and more recently global AI developers), only mentioned Europe once in its 2021 annual report, and exited the teleradiology business in 2020. However…

  • HLH is the leading reporting provider for NHS England Targeted Lung Health Check (TLHC), an AI-enabled lung cancer screening pilot program that might pave the way for a UK-wide program. 
  • TLHC requires all radiologists to use AI with their LDCT screening interpretations, suggesting that AI might also be required in a future UK-wide program.
  • HLH uses RadNet’s Aidence subsidiary’s lung cancer AI tools, and HLH will work with Aidence to further develop its solutions.

The Takeaway

RadNet started 2022 by acquiring two major cancer screening AI companies (Aidence and Quantib), which combined with its DeepHealth breast cancer AI business to support its ambitious new strategy to become a population-scale cancer screening leader. 

That goal might have seemed like a longshot to some, given AI’s uncertain path forward and RadNet’s geographic concentration in just seven US states. However, last week’s HLH acquisition showed that RadNet remains very committed to AI-driven cancer screening leadership, and its strategy might not be as geographically-challenged as some initially thought.

Sirona Medical Acquires Nines AI, Talent

Sirona Medical announced its acquisition of Nines’ AI assets and personnel, representing notable milestones for Sirona’s integrated RadOS platform and the quickly-changing imaging AI landscape.

Acquisition Details – Sirona acquired Nines’ AI portfolio (data pipeline, ML engines, workflow/analytics tools, AI models) and key team members (CRO, Direct of Product, AI engineers), while Nines’ teleradiology practice was reportedly absorbed by one of its telerad customers. Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed, although this wasn’t a traditional acquisition considering that Sirona and Nines had the same VC investor.

Sirona’s Nines Strategy – Sirona’s mission is to streamline radiologists’ overly-siloed workflows with its RadOS radiology operating system (unifies: worklist, viewer, reporting, AI, etc.), and it’s a safe bet that any acquisition or investment Sirona makes is intended to advance this mission. With that…

  • Nine’s most tangible contributions to Sirona’s strategy are its FDA-cleared AI models: NinesMeasure (chest CT-based lung nodule measurements) and NinesAI Emergent Triage (head CT-based intracranial hemorrhage and mass effect triage). The AI models will be integrated into the RadOS platform, bolstering Sirona’s strategy to allow truly-integrated AI workflows. 
  • Nine’s personnel might have the most immediate impact at Sirona, given the value/scarcity of experienced imaging software engineers and the fact that Nines’ product team arguably has more hands-on experience with radiologist workflows than any other imaging AI firm (at least AI firms available for acquisition).
  • Nine’s other AI and imaging workflow assets should also help support Sirona’s future RadOS and AI development, although it’s harder to assess their impact for now.

The AI Shakeup Angle – This acquisition has largely been covered as another example of 2022’s AI shakeup, which isn’t too surprising given how active this year has been (MaxQ’s shutdown, RadNet’s Aidence/Quantib acquisitions, IBM shedding Watson Health). However, Nines’ strategy to combine a telerad practice with in-house AI development was quite unique and its decision to sell might say more about its specific business model (at its scale) than it does about the overall AI market.

The Takeaway

Since the day Sirona emerged from stealth, it’s done a masterful job articulating its mission to solve radiology’s workflow problems by unifying its IT infrastructure. Acquiring Nines’ AI assets certainly supports Sirona’s unified platform messaging, while giving it more technology and personnel resources to try to turn that message into a reality.

Meanwhile, Nines becomes the latest of surely many imaging AI startups to be acquired, pivoted, or shut down, as AI adoption evolves at a slower pace than some VC runways. Nines’ strategy was really interesting, they had some big-name founders and advisors, and now their work and teams will live on through Sirona.

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