Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

The image shows people working at Pakistani startup Xylexa office in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 29, 2022. (AN Photo)
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Updated 05 December 2022

Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

  • Xylexa’s technology has gone through clinical trials at several medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad
  • Startup recently got its first contract in Lebanon and is now looking into opportunities in UAE, Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: An award-winning Pakistani startup that uses artificial intelligence and cloud-based tools for breast cancer detection is now working on getting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and pursuing expansion into Arab countries, the founders of the firm said this week.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Pakistan has the highest breast cancer rate in Asia, with one out of nine Pakistani women now facing a lifetime risk of the disease. The country also has one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates globally.

Known as Xylexa, the Islamabad-based startup was founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Shahid Abbasi, Shahrukh Babar, and Neda Nehal who met each other by chance at an IT industry event in 2017.

The three individuals thus embarked on a mission to fight the disease by empowering radiologists — medical doctors that specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging procedures — with tools and technologies that would render improved clinical outcomes for the patients.

“We have developed a decision support program for interpretation of medical images which use cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision, and deep learning that would help radiologists attain better clinical insights,” Abbasi, the co-founder of the startup, told Arab News in an interview in Islamabad this week.




Xylexa team poses for a picture after receiving the Pasha Technology of the Year Award in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy: Xylexa)

The inspiration to do something for breast cancer patients came when a close relative was diagnosed with the disease at a very late stage, he said.

“We got together as a group and decided to do something about it and use technology as a medium to save more lives,” Abbasi added.

The first set of algorithms that Xylexa developed was for the detection of breast cancer using mammography, he said, and its clinical evaluation was successfully concluded after the hard work of three and half years.

“We are not just stopping at mammography but now we are focused on developing support for 14 different diseases that require chest x-rays and have also developed algorithms for protection of blockages within the arterial system,” Abbasi said.




 Lieutenant General Nigar Johar, Surgeon General Pakistan Army (2nd right) is visiting Xylexa office in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Xylexa)

The entrepreneur said his company’s product delivered results with an up to a 95 percent accuracy ratio, thus giving 24 percent better results than traditional radiology examination.

“If you look at the market data available for the accuracy of radiologists’ readings, it ranges anywhere between 71 percent to 82 percent. On the other hand, the accuracy rates of three algorithms that we have developed for mammography, chest x-ray, and peripheral artery disease detection ranges anywhere between 89 percent to 95 percent,” he added.

After developing an AI and cloud-based platform to provide support for breast cancer detection, Xylexa put it through clinical validation at various medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad.

According to StartUs Insights, an Austrian company that has evaluated almost 359 companies across the globe using artificial intelligence in health care, Xylexa was among the top five performers in this domain.

Babar, another co-founder of the startup, said the team was now applying for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States after completing clinical trials.

“We ran a trial in Pakistan with Fouji Foundation Hospital, Islamabad Diagnostic Center, and Epiphany Labs,” he said, adding that the startup was also expanding to Arab countries.

“Recently, we got our first contract in Lebanon and we are looking at a few opportunities in Saudi Arabia too. We have already carried out trials with the King Fahad Hospital in the Kingdom and now are in talks with a few potential partners in Dubai as well.”

Babar said breast cancer could be successfully cured with early detection.

“If breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, chances of survival are 90 percent,” he said. “If it is diagnosed at a later stage, then chances of survival remain 25 percent or even less.”


Former Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf dies in Dubai after years in exile

Updated 10 sec ago

Former Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf dies in Dubai after years in exile

  • Ex-military dictator was under treatment at a Dubai hospital for amyloidosis, a rare disease
  • Musharraf seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup and ruled Pakistan until 2008

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani president and army chief, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, passed away in Dubai, close family associates confirmed, after years of self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Musharraf, 79, was under treatment at a Dubai hospital for amyloidosis, a rare disease, a former close aide of the military ruler and chairman of his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party, Major General (retired) Rashid Qureshi, said.

“I am in contact with the family for the repatriation of the mortal remains of the former president,” he told Arab News.

Another close aide, Dr. Muhammad Amjad Chaudhry, a former chairman of the APML, said the former president had been "seriously sick since 2018."

"When I last talked to his family about a week back, he was serious and hospitalized,” Chaudhry added.

The Pakistani army, navy, and air chiefs and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC) condoled Musharraf's death in a statement to the press.

“CJCSC & Services Chiefs express heartfelt condolences on the sad demise of General Pervez Musharraf,” the statement said. “May Allah bless the departed soul and give strength to the bereaved family.”

A general view of the exterior of the American Hospital Dubai, where former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf is believed to have died, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on February 5, 2023. (REUTERS)

Musharraf, the son of a career diplomat, was born in New Delhi in 1943 and migrated to the newly independent Pakistan with his family in 1947. Musharraf joined the army in 1964 and graduated from the Army Command and Staff College in Quetta. He also attended the Royal College of Defence Studies in London and has fought in Pakistan’s 1965 and 1971 wneighboringneighbouring India.

After holding a number of appointments in the army's artillery, infantry, and commando units, Musharraf was appointed army chief by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998 - a move he would later come to regret when the military ruler ousted Sharif in a bloodless military coup in 1999. Musharraf then served as Pakistan's president from 2001 to 2008.

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks in 2001, Washington sought Pakistan's support in the 'War on Terror,' and Musharraf became a close ally of the then US administration of George Bush. He also won mass appeal in the West through his calls for Muslims to adopt a lifestyle of “enlightened moderation.” He also embraced liberal economic policies during his rule that impressed business leaders, brought in foreign investment and led to annual economic growth of as much as 7.5 percent.

Musharraf ruled as army chief until 2007 when he quit, trading the military post for a second five-year term as president.

He stepped down as president also in 2008 over fears of being impeached by Pakistan’s then ruling coalition. He subsequently left the country but returned in 2013 with the hope of regaining power as a civilian at the ballot box. However, he encountered a slew of criminal charges, and within a year, was barred for life from running for public office.

In 2016, after a travel ban was lifted, Musharraf left for Dubai to seek medical treatment and has since remained there. In 2019, a special court indicted him on treason charges in absentia, which he denied, and eventually sentenced him to death, though the ruling was later overturned by a higher court.

During his years in power, Musharraf saw many moments of tumult.

In 2006, a popular tribal leader from the southwestern province Balochistan was killed in military action ordered by Musharraf, unleashing an armed insurgency that goes on to date. In 2007, he ordered troops to storm a mosque in Islamabad whose clerics and students were calling for the imposition of Shariah law. The siege led to the birth of an indigenous Taliban movement, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has since led an insurgency against the government in Islamabad and killed tens of thousands in brazen assaults on security, government and civilian targets.

In 2007, Musharraf demanded the resignation of then chief justice of the Supreme Court, unleashing a mass protest movement that massively dented his popularity and started calls for him to step down.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who is the brother of three-time former PM Nawaz whom Musharraf ousted in 1999, condoled over the military ruler's death and "sent prayers for forgiveness of the deceased and patience for the family,” the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement.

Among others who condoled were Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani, Pakistan Peoples Party Leader Faisal Karim Kundi, and a senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Chaudhary Fawad Hussain, who was for years in Musharraf's party.

“I have a long association with him and he always considered me his family member,” he said in a video statement. “Many called him a military dictator but Pakistan has never seen better democracy than his tenure.”

“He led Pakistan in very difficult circumstances and made it a pluralist society. He was a very big person, his friends proved to be small.”


In photos: The life and times of late Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf

Updated 05 February 2023

In photos: The life and times of late Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf

  • Musharraf seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup, became Pakistan's president in 2001
  • He was the chief regional ally of the US during its invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has died in Dubai after a prolonged illness, the Pakistani military said on Sunday. 

Musharraf seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup, ruling as "chief executive" when the 9/11 attacks on the United States took place, before becoming president in 2001. 

He was the chief regional ally of the United States during its invasion of the neighbouring Afghanistan, but resigned in 2008 and was subsequently forced into exile after a backlash over his constitutional overreach. 

Here are some pictures depicting the life of the former Pakistani military ruler: 

On October 7, 1998, Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appointed General Pervez Musharraf as the country's army chief. (AFP/File)

 

Pakistani army chief General Pervez Musharraf speaks during a nationwide address on state-owned television in Karachi on October 13, 1999. Musharraf said the armed forces had to intervene to end "uncertainty and turmoil." Musharraf said the "self serving policies" being followed by ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had rocked the country's very foundations. (AFP/File)
Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, left, taking oath as the President of Pakistan during a ceremony in President House in Islamabad on June 20, 2001. (AFP/File)
In his address to the nation on radio and TV on September 19, 2001, Musharraf explained his government's promise to back possible US military actions against Afghanistan a week after the September 11 attacks on the United States. (AFP/File)
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf waves to his supporters at a polling station in Rawalpindi on April 20, 2002, after winning a referendum to extend his presidency by five years. (AFP/File)
On December 14 and 25, 2003, Musharraf survived two assassination attempts by Al-Qaida in Rawalpindi. (AFP/File)
During his television address to the nation on December 24, 2003, former president Pervez Musharraf confirmed he will quit as Pakistan's military chief in December, 2004. (AFP/File)
On December 30, 2004, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said he would stay on as army chief after controversially breaking an earlier promise to hang up his uniform by the year's end. (AFP/File)
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf launched his autobiography “In the Line of Fire” in New York, United States, on September 26, 2006. (AFP/File)
President General Pervez Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on allegations of misconduct on March 9, 2007, which sparked city-wide protests in the federal capital Islamabad in the top judge's favor. (PID/File)
Pakistani security officials examine a long barrelled anti-aircraft gun in Rawalpindi, 06 July 2007, after gunmen fired at President Pervez Musharraf's plane. (AFP/File)
On July 10, 2007, then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf ordered military troops to storm Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, to end a week-long siege by seminary students in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: Daily Pakistan)
November 3, 2007 — President General Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency law in Pakistan. (Pakistan Television/Screen grab)
President Musharraf retired as army chief on November 28, 2007, putting an end to his eight years of military rule. (AFP/File)
Pervez Musharraf took oath as the president of Pakistan for a second term on 29 November, 2007. (AFP/File) 
President Musharraf lifted the emergency on December 25, 2007, and pledged free and fair elections next month. (AFP/File)
President Musharraf resigned from the office on August 18, 2008. (AFP/File)
Lawyers shout slogans against former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar on July 31, 2009, after the Supreme Court declared the imposition of emergency rule by the former president unconstitutional. The court gave him seven days to respond. (AFP/File)

 

On March 24, 2013, Musharraf returned to Pakistan after more than four years in exile to contest in general elections. (AFP/File)
Former president Pervez Musharraf launched a career as a TV analyst on February 27, 2017. (Photo courtesy: Bol Tv)
A special court on December 17, 2019, sentenced former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in absentia to death for treason. (AFP/File)
Azhar Siddique, the lawyer of Musharraf, gestures along with team members outside the Lahore High Court on January 13, 2020 after the court annulled the death sentence handed to the former president, ruling that the special court which had found him guilty of treason in 2019 was unconstitutional. (AFP/File)

 


OBITUARY: Pakistan’s Musharraf, military ruler who allied with the US and promoted moderate Islam

Updated 05 February 2023

OBITUARY: Pakistan’s Musharraf, military ruler who allied with the US and promoted moderate Islam

  • The four-star general who ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999
  • Under Musharraf, foreign investment flourished and Pakistan saw annual economic growth of as much as 7.5%

ISLAMABAD: Pervez Musharraf, the four-star general who ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999, oversaw rapid economic growth and attempted to usher in socially liberal values in the conservative Muslim country.

Musharraf, 79, died in hospital after a long illness after spending years in self-imposed exile, Pakistan media reported on Sunday. He enjoyed strong support for many years, his greatest threat Al-Qaeda and other militant Islamists who tried to kill him at least three times.

But his heavy-handed use of the military to quell dissent as well as his continued backing of the United States in its fight against Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban ultimately led to his downfall.

Born in New Delhi in 1943, Musharraf was four years old when his parents joined the mass exodus by Muslims to the newly created state of Pakistan. His father served in the foreign ministry, while his mother was a teacher and the family subscribed to a moderate, tolerant brand of Islam.

He joined the army at the age of 18 and went on to lead an elite commando unit before rising to become its chief. He took power by ousting the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who had tried to sack him for greenlighting an operation to invade Indian-held areas of Kashmir, bringing Pakistan and India to the brink of war.

In his early years in government, Musharraf won plaudits internationally for his reformist efforts, pushing through legislation to protect the rights of women and allowing private news channels to operate for the first time.

His penchant for cigars and imported whisky and his calls for Muslims to adopt a lifestyle of “enlightened moderation” increased his appeal in the West in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

He became one of Washington’s most important allies after the attacks, allowing US forces to operate armed drones from secret bases on Pakistani soil that killed thousands and ordering domestic troops into the country’s lawless tribal areas along the Afghanistan frontier for the first time Pakistan’s history.

That helped legitimize his rule overseas but also helped plunge Pakistan into a bloody war against local extremist militant groups.

In a 2006 memoir, he took credit for saving Pakistan from American wrath saying the country had been warned it needed to be “prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age” if it did not ally itself with Washington.

Musharraf also successfully lobbied then-President George W. Bush to pour money into the Pakistani military. Still, the army’s allegiances were never unambiguous: its powerful intelligence services cut deals with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and bolstered an insurgency fighting US troops in Afghanistan.

In other areas of foreign policy, Musharraf attempted to normalize relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.

At a regional summit in 2002, less than three years after launching the military operation against India, Musharraf shocked the world when, after finishing a speech, he suddenly moved toward Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to shake hands and offered to talk peace.

Analysts say the issue of Kashmir – which remains the most potent point of contention between India and Pakistan – was close to being solved during the Musharraf era. But the peace process was derailed soon after his rule.

Under Musharraf, foreign investment flourished and Pakistan saw annual economic growth of as much as 7.5 percent — which remains the highest level in nearly three decades, according to World Bank data.

The later years of his presidency were, however overshadowed, by his increasingly authoritarian rule. In 2006, Musharraf ordered military action that killed a tribal head from the province Balochistan, laying the foundations of an armed insurgency that rages to this day.

The next year, more than a hundred students calling for the imposition of Sharia law were killed after Musharraf shunned negotiations and ordered troops to storm a mosque in Islamabad. That led to the birth of a new militant group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has since killed tens of thousands in suicide bombings and brazen assaults.

Later in 2007, a suicide attack that assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, triggered waves of violence. His efforts to strong arm the judiciary also led to protests and a besieged Musharraf postponed elections and declared a state of emergency.

In 2008, the country’s first democratic elections in 11 years were held. Musharraf’s party lost and facing impeachment by parliament he resigned the presidency and fled to London.

He returned to Pakistan in 2013 to run for a seat in parliament but was immediately disqualified. He was allowed to leave for Dubai in 2016.

In 2019, a court sentenced him to death in absentia for the 2007 imposition of emergency rule but the verdict was later overturned.


Pakistan minister asks world if ‘economic interests’ alone will decide fate of Kashmiris

Updated 05 February 2023

Pakistan minister asks world if ‘economic interests’ alone will decide fate of Kashmiris

  • The statement comes as Pakistan observes Kashmir Solidarity Day to express solidarity with Kashmiris
  • Ahsan Iqbal calls out the world for its ‘double standards’ on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and Kashmir 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Saturday criticized the international community for its role toward the resolution of the Kashmir conflict, questioning if “economic interests” alone would decide the fate of Kashmiris. 

Iqbal’s statement came ahead of the Kashmir Solidarity Day, which Pakistan observes every year on the February 5 to express solidarity with the people of Indian-administered Kashmir. 

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between Pakistan and India since their independence from the British rule in 1947. Both Pakistan and India rule parts of the Himalayan territory, but claim it in full and have fought two of their four wars over the disputed region. 

However, many in Pakistan believe the world’s lukewarm response to the resolution of Kashmir dispute has much to with India’s economic growth over the past years, which allows New Delhi to ignore international conventions. 

“Unfortunately, India feels that it can ignore the international conventions, it can violate the fundamental rights of people in Jammu and Kashmir and it can use its brutal force because it is an attractive market for other countries,” Iqbal told Arab News in an exclusive interview. 

“We have to decide whether economics alone will decide the fate of humanity or fundamental rights, law, justice, self-determination and democratic values have any place. If we will only settle for dollars and cents and commercial and economic interests, then this world will become very brutal.” 

Ties between bitter rivals India and Pakistan stand frozen since August 5, 2019, when New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s special status, taking away the territory’s autonomy and dividing it into three federally administered territories. 

Pakistan calls the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy part of New Delhi’s alleged attempts to change the demography of the region, and has demanded the world fraternity take notice of it. 

Iqbal, however, called out the international community for its “double standards” on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and the Kashmir issue.

“It is quite an irony that on the one hand the whole western world is fighting a war against annexation… of the eastern parts in Ukraine and they are not willing to compromise on the geography and on the area which has been annexed by Russia, but in Kashmir the international community easily feels it convenient to ignore the annexation by India,” he said. 

“These are double standards. And when such double standards are exercised it gives rise to extremism. If we want to see a world which is peaceful, we have to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts.” 


Karachi’s ‘seafood heaven’ offers unique gastronomical experience to fish lovers

Updated 05 February 2023

Karachi’s ‘seafood heaven’ offers unique gastronomical experience to fish lovers

  • Situated right next to Pakistan’s largest port, Seafood Street offers a variety of fish in different forms
  • The area housed only a few shops a few decades ago before it turned into a major spot for families

KARACHI: People in Pakistan’s southern Karachi port city usually avoid using the busy Napier Mole Road on winter evenings due to huge trailers causing traffic congestion, but hundreds of them can now be seen on this route in their vehicles while trying to reach to a street that is popularly known as “seafood heaven” to tantalize their tastebuds.

Known for its diverse and multicultural environment, Karachi offers a variety of cuisines that can be found in different corners of the city. Seafood Street, which is situated in the midst of centuries-old buildings near the country’s largest port, is yet another addition to the thriving food culture of the seaside metropolis.

A few decades ago, the area only housed a few shops, mostly serving fried fish cooked in large woks. But now, the street has dozens of small kiosks, or “fish points” as people prefer to call them, that serve croaker, silver pomfret, rasbora dandia and red snapper cooked in a variety of ways before being served with chutney and flatbread.

“My father started [selling] fish here,” Muhammad Rashid, owner of Rashid Seafood, told Arab News. “Then my brother came in. But when I took over, I started offering fish barbecue [using] my mother’s [recipe].”

The picture taken on February 2, 2023, shows a food joint called Rashid Seafood in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

He said that his idea of adding grilled fish to the menu was an instant hit and changed the course of his business.

While the variety of fish offered by food stalls became the unique selling point of the street, Keamari Sea Food, another food joint, came up with the idea of creating a seating area for families. The model was also adopted by others, including Rashid. Muhammad Usman, the owner of the eatery who first took this initiative, said the street started becoming famous after families started visiting it in 2019.

“Another attraction of this market is that the prices are reasonable,” he said while speaking to Arab News. “The fish is fresh out of the water [because] the sea is close to us.”

Usman added that foreigners, including many Arabs, had started visiting the place after it earned its fame.

While people throng the street to enjoy a wide variety of fish, prawn karahi and crab soup are other major attractions for foodies amid winter season.

The picture taken on February 2, 2023, shows a man cooking crab soup in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

“We tried grilled mushka [croaker] fish, grilled prawns, prawn karahi, and some white pomfret, and also their chow mein,” Siddiqa Asif, a visitor, said. 
“Everything was really good.”

Asif said it was a “great idea” to visit the place in winter, adding she wanted to try something more suitable for the season.

“It is quite far, and I think that’s also a kind of attraction for the people of Karachi that they are going somewhere to enjoy the weather and the food,” she said.

Afshan Asif, a housewife who visited the food street along with her family and ordered the famous prawn karahi, barbecue prawns, grilled croaker and red snapper, said it was her first experience with her family at the venue which had turned out to be “wonderful.”

“[It] felt good to come here,” she said. “Families have come over [too]. I didn’t expect to see families like this here, but it is good. The food is really good.

The weather is also better, and this is the best time to have fish or other seafood.”

The picture taken on February 2, 2023, shows a man grilling a fish in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

Asad Aftab, a Karachi-based businessman, said the proximity of the street to the sea and old buildings surrounding it add to its value, especially to people his age.

“I see heritage buildings [and] walls here made of blocks that used to be there in old times,” he said, “I felt as if I went back into my past.”

Aftab said everyone had a choice, but he strongly recommended people to visit the street since they would enjoy it.

“I am sitting in a very relaxed environment,” he said after finishing his meal. “The weather is also good today, it’s cold. Fish tastes even better in this weather.”

“Next time, I will return in summer and see how it feels,” he continued. “But [in] winter, street food and Keamari are a great combination.”