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PathAI acquires Poplar Healthcare, highlighting AI’s role in medical diagnoses

Dr. Amy Rapkiewicz, pathology department chair at NYU Langone Hospital - Long Island, shows a slide of lung tissue affected by COVID-19.
Dr. Amy Rapkiewicz, pathology department chair at NYU Langone Hospital - Long Island, shows a slide of lung tissue affected by COVID-19.Seth Wenig/Associated Press

PathAI, a Boston-based health technology startup, said Monday that it has acquired Poplar Healthcare, one of the country’s largest pathology labs, as the company seeks to provide doctors a quicker way to diagnose medical ailments through use of its software.

The tech company, whose artificial intelligence software helps pathologists analyze medical images, acquired Poplar for an undisclosed amount. Pathologists examine body and medical tissues to aid in diagnosing medical conditions.

The acquisition was an eight-figure deal, according to a person familiar with the matter. As part of the deal, PathAI will absorb Poplar’s 350 employees, and maintain the company’s offices in Memphis. PathAI will now have roughly 550 employees in total.

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The acquisition provides PathAI access to Poplar’s network of over 500,000 patients, the company said. Now, as Poplar’s pathologists process patient samples, they will use PathAI’s software to try to provide more patients with quicker diagnoses of their ailments.

“It’s a really big deal for us,” Andy Beck, PathAI’s chief executive, said in an interview. “It really accelerates a future where potentially every diagnosis is augmented by AI.”

Founded in 2016, PathAI uses artificial intelligence and machine learning software to solve a growing problem in pathology.

As medical science has advanced, experts in the industry said, pathologists have been asked to do more, such as looking for more advanced patterns in body tissue to signify a disease is present. For instance, oncologists might use the software to digitally analyze breast tissue samples for signs of cancer. PathAI’s product aims to make it easier to find complex patterns in medical images.

The company is cofounded by Beck, who is a trained pathologist and received his PhD in biomedical informatics from Stanford University. His cofounder, Aditya Khosla, is the chief technology officer, and earned his doctorate in machine learning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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PathAI’s acquisition comes two months after it closed $165 million in a funding round co-led by D1 Capital Partners and Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest health care providers. The company is also backed by General Catalyst, the Cambridge-based venture capital firm. It has received $255 million in funding to date, a company official said.

PathAI and Poplar will digitize the lab company’s diagnostic workflow, and rely on image analysis software to create new clinical applications. Poplar, which was founded in 1995, provides specialized laboratory testing services to gastroenterologists, dermatologists, oncologists, urologists, and gynecologists across the country.

Jim Sweeney, the chief executive of Poplar, said in a statement that the deal with PathAI serves its mission.

“We looked for a partner interested in transforming pathology, leveraging technology and AI to enhance pathologists’ work and better equip them to serve patients and clinicians,” he said.



Pranshu Verma can be reached at pranshu.verma@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @pranshuverma_.