AFRICA – Hurone AI, a Seattle-Washington-based company that is building an AI-assisted application that can help oncologists in sub-Saharan Africa better detect and treat cancer, has secured an investment from Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The investment is part of AWS’s US$40 million Health Equity Initiative that aims to bridge the gaps in cancer care outcomes in the underserved region.
Hurone AI is democratizing access to high-quality cancer prevention and care by building artificial intelligence-powered applications derived from data sources and algorithms from people of African descent.
As oncologists are scarce in many parts of Africa, Hurone AI’s Gukiza application enables oncologists to provide remote patient monitoring and tele-oncology care, starting in Rwanda.
Powered by AWS, the Gukiza app allows oncologists to communicate with patients using digital devices and text messages, increasing the ability to provide care to more patients in more places.
According to Hurone AI founder and Chief Strategist Kingsley Ndoh, there is one oncologist for every 3,000 cancer patients in sub-Saharan Africa, versus one oncologist to about 150 cancer patients in the United States.
Much of the field data in oncology is sourced globally. However, the majority of that data comes from white people of European decent, who suffer cancer at different rates and of different types than black people of African descent, according to Ndoh.
The lack of good clinical data from black people also shows up during the treatment regimen. For example, the drug taxane has shown to be an effective treatment of breast cancer for American women.
However, black women were not getting the same level of success with the drug as their white counterparts, a West Virgina study has shown.
Hurone AI is currently participating in randomized control trials to determine if its AI-powered approach to precision oncology is better than the standard of care.
The company is not collecting individual genetics for the trial, but instead is using genetic data collected at the village level in Rwanda to inform its study.
Based on the results of that trial, the company will determine whether to go forward with more funding, with the ultimate goal of offering an AI assist to oncologists in Africa.
Participating in the AWS Health Equity Initiative has also helped Hurone AI gain access to the computing resources that it needs. As part of the initiative, which was started in 2021, AWS has committed to giving US$40 million over three years to organizations that promote health equity.
“At this stage, saving on US$3,000 to US$10,000 per month is huge,” Ndoh said. “That’s essentially what I would be spending on our cloud cost in Rwanda. So through the cloud credits, AWS have given us that leeway to run and scale quickly.”
In addition, AWS customer South Africa-based Hyrax Biosciences, another recipient of support via AWS’ Health Equity Initiative, has developed a genomic sequencing diagnostic deployed in Africa.
Because the Hyrax technology is built with cloud services, use of AWS enables the secure scaling of the technology to different types of tests globally.