AI and analytics partnership to accelerate healthcare innovation

SAS and the Maxwell Centre at the University of Cambridge has announced a partnership aimed at accelerating healthcare innovation through enhanced access to advanced analytics. It will embed SAS experts and SAS® Viya® data and AI platform capabilities into the University environment, enabling targeted collaboration with leading researchers and early-stage entrepreneurs, supporting them to “find the quickest way from a billion points of data to a point of view”. 

The unique SAS Advanced Analytics Hub will be established at the Maxwell Centre on the Cambridge West campus. It will have capacity to concurrently recruit and support several high-quality, high-impact academic research projects and promising early-stage startups in the health-tech space, providing their innovative ideas with extra momentum. 

The partners have already demonstrated the effectiveness of the collaboration in addressing an important healthcare challenge. A University of Cambridge-led project on kidney transplants, PITHIA, developed an AI-based decision support approach using SAS’s dynamic analytics platform. 

It is being used to automate the process of scoring biopsies for kidneys to better identify those organs that can be used for transplantation. The aim is to increase the number of transplants and improve the function of those kidneys used. This has the potential to save lives and transform the quality of life for more than 100 people each year who would otherwise require dialysis, as well as saving the NHS millions of pounds annually.

This collaboration was initiated and led by Dr Alex Samoshkin (Deputy Head, Office for Translational Research, School of Clinical Medicine) who facilitates interactions between clinicians and researchers from the Biomedical Campus with researchers in science and technology working with the Maxwell Centre. 

Dr Samoshkin said: “In 2018 I supported the PITHIA project led by Prof. Gavin Pettigrew, looking to optimise qualification of kidneys for transplantation, for which SAS turned out to be the perfect industrial partner. We demonstrated that synergy between the University and SAS was instrumental in accelerating the process of transitioning from ideas to the clinic.” 

This initial success paved the way for a more ambitious partnership between Cambridge and SAS. The Cambridge team visited the SAS headquarters at Cary, NC, USA in June 2023 to discuss collaboration opportunities with the SAS senior leadership team including Dr Jim Goodnight, co-founder and CEO. A year later, the vision has turned into reality as the SAS Advanced Analytics Hub at the Maxwell Centre begins building a pipeline of new collaborative projects with potential to improve health outcomes for millions of patients around the world. 

The Maxwell Centre Director, Dr Aga Iwasiewicz-Wabnig, commented: “We are excited to interface Cambridge’s world-class research and innovation with SAS’ leading expertise in advanced analytics and AI forming a partnership for societal good. We are starting with a strong focus on healthcare and will build momentum to support future interdisciplinary projects on sustainability and social equality.”

Roderick Crawford, Senior Vice President, SAS Northern Europe, commented: “There are many examples we’re seeing of how AI can have a truly transformational effect, not just on businesses, but in areas such as healthcare and society as a whole. We’re delighted to deepen our relationship with the University of Cambridge through this partnership, and there is enormous potential when you consider the additional expertise our partners, such as Microsoft, and customers, such as AstraZeneca, can provide.”