Meet Vaclav Potesil, Founder and Chief Business Officer at AI Lung Health Company: Optellum

We founded Optellum with the goal of enabling every patient with lung disease to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible, and cured – starting with lung cancer, the No 1 cancer killer. We are a rapidly growing medical software start-up based in Oxford UK. We are the leader in AI decision support for early lung cancer diagnosis, having developed the world’s first and only such platform to secure US FDA and CE-MDR clearance.

Our first product supports clinicians in identifying and managing at-risk patients who present suspicious lung lesions found in Computed Tomography scans, which may or may not be cancerous, with the goal of speeding up cancer treatment and minimizing invasive biopsies and surgeries on suspicious lesions which are not cancerous. The AI is first applied to “read” any radiology report across the health system and then helps doctors make optimal decisions, by turning the CT image into a personalized malignancy score, using a “digital biomarker” based on neural networks.

Many science-based startups, especially university spin-outs, start with a piece of technology, looking for a problem. Optellum is a little unique in having started with the problem first, then looking to build the best technology to solve it.


How did you come up with the idea for the company?

My aunt was diagnosed and passed away from lung cancer after coughing up blood, having never smoked a cigarette. This experience contributed to me being involved in computer vision research applied to lung cancer – way before AI in healthcare became popular (and even ready for clinical use).

Later during my Doctorate at the Oxford’s world-renowned AI laboratory, I met with future co-founders Timor Kadir, Jerome Declerck, Lyndsey Pickup and Professor Sir Mike Brady. Working with a serial entrepreneur like Mike lit my “entrepreneurial fire”. Despite early steps – winning the Oxford student business idea competitions – I delayed my dream of starting a company until a few years later, when I had my “lightbulb” moment surviving a tragic mountaineering accident.

Realizing life is too short to delay dreams, Optellum was founded two months later, having “brought the band together”, applying our talents to solve the biggest unsolved problem in oncology.


How has the company evolved over the last couple of years?

Optellum has evolved from being an initial first proof of concept, to undergoing product development and clinical trials in partnership with leading hospitals across the world. The early R&D work was supported through UK and EU innovation grants, including EIT Health, the NIHR and Innovate UK.

Major recent milestones have been obtaining FDA and CE clearances, and implementing our platform at first US hospitals. We are really excited to see real patients receive better care. In the UK, our solution is being used in a multi-centre study as part of a major NHS investment in AI.

To accelerate global clinical deployments and continue the advancement of the platform, we have entered into strategic partnerships with GE Healthcare and the Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson. As part of our recent Series A, we also secured strategic investment from the VC arm of Intuitive, the world leader in surgical robotics.

What can we hope to see from Optellum in the future?

We have made great progress towards becoming the standard of care in early lung cancer diagnosis. To broaden access to our platform to every patient and clinician, we are investing in additional clinical studies to secure reimbursement by health insurers, and strategic distribution partnerships to accelerate delivery of our platform to hospitals around the world.

As the next step, we are following the patient journey, and expanding our platform into personalized therapy decisions by integrating imaging with molecular data, robotics and liquid biopsies, with the goal of guiding the right patients into minimally invasive and drug therapies. Our ultimate vision is to enable physicians to diagnose every patient with deadly diseases of the lungs as early as possible, treat them in the optimal way, and help save lives.