improve cancer care in Africa – Kingsley Ndoh, a Seattle entrepreneur, is motivated by the memory of his aunt, who died too young of colon cancer.
Many things went wrong when she was sick in Nigeria more than ten years ago, according to Ndoh. The clinical guidelines at the time established screening age thresholds based primarily on data from white populations, which have a lower relative risk of the disease. She was also misdiagnosed and only discovered she had late-stage disease at the age of 50, which was then the recommended age for first screening. Three years later, she died.
Since then, Ndoh, who was born in Nigeria, has been on a mission to improve cancer care. He founded Hurone AI, a health tech startup, in 2021 to support cancer treatment in Africa and beyond through remote patient monitoring and tele-oncology designed for resource-limited settings. [improve cancer care in Africa]
Ndoh sees flaws not only in his aunt’s care, but also in digital oncology tools developed in the United States, which frequently operate with limited data on underrepresented populations and ethnic minorities. Hurone AI aims to bridge those gaps by bringing its data and technology back to the United States.
“The company’s vision is very personal to me,” said Ndoh, a physician by training and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington.
According to World Health Organization and other studies, the United States has about one oncologist for every 294 cancer patients, whereas Sub-Saharan Africa has about one for every 3,000 cancer patients. People in the region also die at a disproportionately high rate from cancer.
Gukiza, a platform developed by Hurone AI, supplements the oncologist. Gukiza means “healing” in Kinyarwanda, one of Rwanda’s official languages, where the platform is currently being tested. [improve cancer care in Africa]
Patients who use Gukiza receive personalised text messages on their phones inquiring about side effects and other aspects of their care. Patients provide ranked responses with a few clicks.
Clinicians can view their patients’ statuses on a dashboard and customise pre-written messages.
According to Ndoh, the platform saves oncologists time and patients the inconvenience and expense of in-person visits. “We’ve improved communication between patients and the oncology care team,” he explained. The system is also compatible with text-based cell phones used by patients.
“In the United States, we build technology with the assumption that everyone has a smartphone. “However, when you go to these remote resource-limited settings, you have to think more creatively,” Ndoh explained.
Hurone chose Rwanda for testing due to the government’s openness to new technologies and the country’s high need, with only ten oncologists for a population of 13 million people. [improve cancer care in Africa]
Hurone intends to sell its product to health systems and biopharma companies to support cancer treatment testing. According to Ndoh, the platform is nearing completion in Rwanda, and the company intends to launch a programme in Brazil this year.
Ndoh has been coordinating his team across multiple time zones for 80 hours per week since bootstrapping the company and raising $150,000 from family and friends. Hurone AI was chosen for Amazon Web Services’ Health Equity Initiative last year, which provided nearly $100,000 in cloud services as well as technical support. Ndoh describes the collaboration as “transformational.”
Lior Romanowsky, chief of product at Hurone and co-founder of three software startups, joined Ndoh as a technical partner. Raymond Ononiwu, a cloud expert and Microsoft veteran, serves as an advisor to the tech team.
Adam Yala, assistant professor of computational health at the University of California, Berkeley; Irene Dankwa-Mullan, chief health equity officer of Merative, formerly IBM Watson Health; Nasim Eftekhari, executive director of applied AI and data science at City of Hope; Isaac Adewole, former Nigerian minister of health; Doyin Oluwole, who has led multiple global health initiatives; and health tech consultant Susan Morgensztern are among the other advisors. [improve cancer care in Africa]
The name of the company is a play on Huron, the Spanish word for ferret. The animal is used in medical research, and its brown, black, and white colours represent the company’s emphasis on data diversity; collecting patient data and using it to improve the app is one of the company’s main goals.
Hurone AI is incorporating custom-made artificial intelligence tools into Gukiza to help predict which patients will have the worst side effects and are most likely to discontinue treatment, as well as to tailor treatments to ensure patient engagement.
Ndoh also plans to create an oncology platform tailored to African Americans or other under-represented groups in the United States, complete with data and algorithms tailored to those populations. [improve cancer care in Africa]
According to Ndoh, only a small percentage of clinical trial participants for approved oncology drugs were of African or Hispanic descent. At the same time, he believes that some drugs may have different side effect profiles in these populations. As a result, the US Food and Drug Administration has urged biopharma companies to collect more data on a wider range of patient populations.
Gukiza is a one-of-a-kind tool for accomplishing that goal, according to Ndoh. According to him, industry can use it to support clinical trials, drug testing in diverse populations, and post-market surveillance.
“Other systems aren’t culturally sensitive and only work well in advanced healthcare systems,” Ndoh explained. Hurone AI, he adds, tailors its app to different healthcare systems.
“When we think about responsive AI for ethnic minorities in the United States, we think about going to the source and bringing all that data back, because it’ll be very effective for populations here as well,” Ndoh explained. [improve cancer care in Africa]
Marijiana Ruiz, a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center alum, leads the company’s finance and operations, and Christain Ntizimira, founding executive director of the African Center for Research on End-of-Life Care, a clinical trial partner alongside the Rwandan Biomedical Center, provides implementation support.
The clinical trial is being conducted by the Rwanda Cancer Center with funding from the Rwandan Ministry of Health. Other Hurone AI partners include the Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa, the Rwanda Girls Initiative, and the Global Health Catalyst at Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.