Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Histopathology

Tech Innovation Challenge

Pfizer and IBM are seeking high growth technology companies to revolutionise reporting and analysis of histopathology slides in current healthcare organisations.



In most pathology labs today, tissue samples are typically analysed by Pathologists (or Pathology teams) using a manual (non-digital) process. It is expensive, labour-intensive, and time-consuming to train healthcare professionals to provide consistent high-quality outputs. Patients under treatment or investigation for cancers, skin conditions and bowel conditions can all be impacted by these challenges.

Pfizer and IBM are looking to accelerate deployment of digital histology and development of AI capabilities for gastrointestinal biopsy reporting to achieve rapid, high-quality results. If you have potential solutions using AI to help image analysis or workflow for cancers or skin conditions, see the wild card category. The optimisation of pathology reporting will help transform the diagnosis and management pathways for patients and healthcare providers worldwide. If you are an early stage business with innovative solutions, this challenge can provide an opportunity for you to engage and collaborate with the NHS and its associated data hubs.


Pfizer and IBM are interested in supporting the development of AI / Machine Learning (ML) Vision approaches to achieve any of the following: 

  1. Speed up the reporting process in conjunction with a histopathologist.
  2. Propose better methodology or scoring systems for grading disease activity, optimisation and standardisation of reporting. 
  3. Improve training experience of future histopathologists. 
  4. Test the hypothesis that AI could analyse and report as effectively as trained histopathologists.
  5. The AI can quickly classify “normal” or “abnormal” specimens or parts of slide images. 
  6. Support future quality assessments of histopathology services. 

We would love to hear from you, whether your solution deploys AI to report on the digital images of slides, allows improved triage of high-risk specimens for human review, improves analysis or annotation of digital images, delivers its impact by dealing with the high volumes of “normal” images or by improving assessment of pre-treatment disease activity or severity classification or post-treatment response. You can apply for the core challenge or via the wildcard assessment.


Do you believe you can deliver potential benefits:

For Pathology laboratories

  • Improve workload and workflow processes of laboratory staff. 
  • Standardise slide image capture, histopathologist reporting and data storage. 
  • Change of focus for histopathologists to allow them to concentrate on more complicated specimens or labour-intensive activities e.g. post-mortems. 
  • Decrease the backlog of unreported slides and loss of slides causing delayed diagnosis. 
  • Long-term cost-savings.

For patients

  • Speeds up the time to diagnosis and potentially accuracy of diagnosis. 
  • Improves decision-making regarding treatment and monitoring, ensuring better disease control and enhanced quality of life. 
  • Better outcomes through improved disease management which reduces the risk of complications (e.g. strictures) and the need for surgery.

For gastroenterology healthcare providers

  • Improves diagnostic accuracy and reduces the time to diagnose disease, disease activity or malignant transformation. 
  • Facilitate guideline development and delivery of better disease management. 
  • Increases understanding of disease pathophysiology and impact of changes to treatment approach on patient outcomes, enabling generation of real-world data and evidence. 
  • Long-term cost-savings.


Application Criteria 

Industry, Specialism and Experience 

Applications are invited if you meet one or more of the criteria in the following area: 

  • Applicants ideally with directly relevant digital pathology / histology experience. 
  • Applicants with endoscopy, radiology, cancer (particularly bowel cancer), dermatology, or other directly relevant experience will also be considered*. 
  • Open to applicants with safety critical industry experience, who are used to documenting decisions for regulatory purposes (examples include aerospace*, transport*, healthcare). 


Applications are invited if you meet one or more of the criteria in the following area: 

  • ML Vision technology proven in the healthcare domain, or experience of image recognition and analysis in other regulated industries*. 
  • Non-commercial technologies previously used for research purposes. 
  • Explainable AI/ML. 
  • Technology Readiness Level 3+


Applications are invited if you meet one or more of the criteria in the following area: 

  • The organisation must be incorporated as a legal registered entity to receive support. 
  • CE-marked or able to become CE-marked. 
  • Able and willing to undergo NICE Digital Health Technology Appraisal pilot type assessment.

*Please apply via the wildcard route 

Applicants should familiarise themselves with the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) digital pathology resources available here and best practice guidance available here

What's in it for you?

The Opportunity 

As an established global biopharmaceutical company, Pfizer can provide expertise and support to engage and collaborate with the health industry in the UK. Pfizer and IBM will select a small number of stand-out teams to progress forward and work on the Tech Innovation Challenge.

There will also be a Wild Card applicant selection for companies who are technologically ready but perhaps lack the clinical credentials to break into healthcare. For example, if an image recognition and machine learning solution achieved in a different clinical area or even a different industry can demonstrate capabilities with anonymised clinical data sets, Pfizer would help successful wildcards define challenges moving into the space and ways Pfizer could help them to bring their technology to pathologists more quickly.

This Challenge offers several opportunities for all applicants: 

  • General awareness, promotion and branding for all applicants. 
  • The opportunity to showcase their product to the NHS and associated data hubs, with support from IBM and Pfizer. 
  • The opportunity to partner with Pfizer and IBM to run a pilot or “proof-of-concept” project, including working with Pfizer’s Research and Development unit and clinical trial team(s). 
  • Opportunities for all applicants to join IBM’s Partner Ecosystem
  • Potential partnership with IBM and Pfizer to access new markets and accelerate product and/or service development. 



Partner with IBM to Innovate and Grow

Having everything you need to react to the challenges you face will make the difference between gaining an advantage on your competitors or being left behind.  You will undoubtedly need access to Application Programming Interfaces, from AI to Cloud Native, development tools and code patterns, or just a cloud platform to create your prototype.  You can access IBM technology to help to create your prototype, including: 

  • IBM Watson, to create AI/ML models 
  • Cloud object, file and structured databases 
  • Development tools & starter code-patterns 
  • Cloud Platform for deployment (Kubernetes, VMs, cloud functions) 

As an IBM partner, you can unlock a variety of benefits to explore IBM technologies with world-class technical support, training and education. In addition, we offer new partners up to $12,000 of IBM Cloud credits for hands-on access to 170+ industry-leading cloud services to learn the technology and build solutions. You will also have access to histopathology sample data sets, via the IBM Cloud, upon which you can train and demonstrate your solution.

Claim your free IBM Cloud credits and start building 

More generally, whether you are taking part in this Tech Innovation Challenge, or you have a next-generation solution in mind that you are eager to develop and launch, IBM PartnerWorld provides support and expertise no matter where you are on your journey. 

Joining IBM’s Partner Ecosystem is the catalyst for your business to achieve new levels of success. The IBM PartnerWorld Program is designed for partners to thrive in the Cloud Era by introducing a new track and benefits for partners who build innovative applications.

When you join IBM PartnerWorld you can:  

  • Leverage our global ecosystem to expand your network globally 
  • Unlock robust benefits optimised for your business model 
  • Engage with our first-class support  
  • Grow your business to earn more money

Join IBM PartnerWorld and boost your business



The Tech Innovation Challenge Process 

The Tech Innovation Challenge Showcase Event will be held virtually on 10th December 2020. At the event, the selected teams and their products will be showcased to relevant stakeholders from across IBM, Pfizer, the NHS and associated data hubs with support from the IBM and Pfizer challenge team. 


The Application

Applications close on Friday, 30th October 2020, 23:59 GMT.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected]

All applicants must read and agree to the IBM Privacy Statement and the Pfizer Privacy Policy prior to submitting your application.

PP-INP-GBR-0143 - October 2020