AI Award



Belfast-based AI company Sonrai Analytics will lead an Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award to deliver novel AI cancer screenings across the NHS. The AI screening method will mean more accurate testing and faster results for patients and could potentially save millions for the NHS each year.

Sonrai Analytics will partner with the Precision Medicine Centre (PMC) at Queen’s University Belfast, in a programme to deliver a transformational tool in cancer diagnostics.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock announced the news earlier today. Sonrai Analytics is the only lead representative from NI to secure part of the UK-wide grant, subject to contract. The AI Award is making £140 million available over four years to accelerate the testing and evaluation of artificial intelligence technologies which meet the aims set out in the NHS Long Term Plan

Seven new specialised roles at Sonrai Analytics will be created in the coming months. The expert team will develop and train new AI algorithms on a cloud platform where pathologists can upload biopsy images and ‘run’ them against the algorithms for faster and more accurate results.

Darragh McArt, CEO of Sonrai Analytics said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this prestigious grant from NIHR which is testament to both Sonrai’s strengths and experience within AI cancer diagnostics and the close links we have developed with the PMC at Queen’s.  We are excited by the opportunity to translate our research into real clinical benefits for patients across the UK.”

Tests carried out by pathologists on cancer biopsy tissue help determine the best treatment options for patients. Annually in the UK there are 43,000 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 36,000 patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. Rapid and accurate testing is critical, but testing is expensive, and results can be slow, and inaccuracies may occur.

Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez, Co-Director of the PMC and Chair of Molecular Pathology at Queen’s University Belfast said: “Artificial Intelligence needs to fulfil its medical promise. The partnership between the Precision Medicine Centre at Queen’s University Belfast and Sonrai Analytics will deliver a framework for AI tissue-based diagnostics across the NHS, providing more timely, accurate and affordable laboratory results.”

Today cancer biopsies are processed and analysed by pathologists who manually identify cancer subtypes based on their knowledge and experience. The new approach will mean that the AI will analyse images of the slides and assist pathologists to diagnose and help determine treatment options more accurately and consistently. 

The use of cloud-based technologies will allow both the images and data to be stored and shared securely and will accelerate the diagnostic workflows within pathology labs.  The project will open the way to NHS adoption of this technique for colorectal, lung and other cancers. 

Through the active involvement of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum, the project will also work to enhance public understanding of the benefits of AI in cancer diagnostics.


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Dr Darragh McArt


Sonrai Analytics 

Dr Darragh McArt is CEO and Co-Founder of Sonrai and a Reader in Bioinformatics at Queen’s University Belfast. He has worked in brain tumour research leading a team of 12 and is collaborating on several ongoing clinical trials. He has built and published extensively on platforms and AI methods in healthcare data analytics. He has driven the development of Sonrai Analytics leading primary product InDRA from a prototype to a product now being used by several international clients.


Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez

Co-Director of the PMC and Chair of Molecular Pathology

Queen’s University Belfast

Prof Salto-Tellez is the Director of the Precision Medicine Centre of Excellence (PMC), a UKAS-accredited, hybrid NHS/Academic laboratory delivering cancer molecular diagnostics in Northern Ireland. Manuel is an NHS consultant pathologist with expertise in molecular diagnostics, digital pathology and artificial intelligence and has ample experience working with the digital pathology industry.

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