During the last edition of Biron Groupe Santé’s Phase B competition, PLAKK, a Montreal company founded in 2019, won first prize.
To highlight his company and his career in the Quebec entrepreneurial ecosystem, Montréal InVivo spoke with the winner of the competition, Dr. Kashif Khan, co-founder and CEO of PLAKK.
Tell us more about yourself and your background?
Dr. Khan: I recently completed my PhD from McGill University, working in the fields of cardiac surgery and vascular biology. I have always had a passion for research, which has been a focus for much of my career. It was only until I was exposed to the Quebec entrepreneurial ecosystem where I learned the value of translating research from bench to innovation at the bedside. Today, I am co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of PLAKK, where I spearhead our team of doctors, AI engineers, data scientists, and business experts all with the same vision: revolutionize cardiovascular care and prevent strokes.
What inspired you to create PLAKK?
Dr. Khan: As clinicians and researchers, we have a deep understanding of the current problems and inequities when it comes to strokes. They are caused by fatty deposits that build in the arteries of our neck and if the blockage is severe enough, can impair blood flow to the brain, causing the tissue to die. We know that there are about 120,000,000 people around the world living with plaques that are dangerous enough to block at least 50% of the diameter of our arteries. However, there are also many plaques that don’t block the arteries, but are considered to be “unstable”, meaning that their composition puts them at risk of breaking off from our arteries and causing a stroke in the brain. In fact, many of these plaques go undetected, leading to 3,000,000 devastating strokes happening each year. Given our team’s expertise in plaques and vascular biology, we were able to use innovative image analysis techniques using one of the most readily available, cost effective and harmless imaging modalities known to date: ultrasound. We now offer a solution: an artificial intelligence-based method to accurately identify unstable carotid plaques to prevent strokes.
How was your transition from academia to entrepreneurship? And how do you find the Life Sciences and Health Technology (LSHT) ecosystem in greater Montreal?
Dr. Khan: As part of my PhD, I was lucky to be part of the Surgical Innovation course at McGill University. There, I was mentored by experts in health care and innovation while learning skills in research commercialization and business strategy. In addition, Montreal has an incredibly supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem and PLAKK has been privileged to be part of several accelerator programs and learn from coaches that have helped our team make the transition from academia to entrepreneurship.
How will the Phase B’s prize help you advance in your project?
Dr. Khan: The monetary award helped us launching a study, for which we are actively recruiting, to help visualize the carotid plaque in 3D and provide clinicians with more information about plaque instability, compared to traditional 2D approaches. Being in contact with experts also contributed to fueling our thinking.
What are PLAKK’s ambitions for the next 5 years?
Dr. Khan: Although we are starting with plaques that form in the carotid arteries of the neck, our goal at PLAKK is to also provide similar solutions for plaques that form all over the body that are detected by ultrasound imaging, such as those formed in the vessels of the heart, legs and kidneys. Through an earlier and more accurate detection of plaques in these arteries, we would be able to prevent other ailments, such as heart attacks, peripheral limb ischemia, and kidney disease.
What is your approach and philosophy to innovation and, more specifically, what do you see as your role in bridging the medical/technical and public perspective of AI?
Dr. Khan: Our approach to innovation is always patient-driven with the clinician workflow in mind. This is why we began our entrepreneurial approach by speaking to cardiovascular experts around the world to validate our idea and software. Being at the forefront of AI and health care, we hope to bridge knowledge gaps for the public so that complicated AI topics are easily explainable and understood. Importantly, we act as advocates for patients with carotid plaques that are missed by the current medical system, in hopes that ischemic strokes will be a thing of the past.