AI for the GI

How Iterative Health’s founder and CEO is bringing precision care to the masses

Emily Brady |
Photo by Kayana Szymczak

If there’s been a driving force in Jonathan Ng’s career, it is this: provide healthcare to as many people as possible. 

This is the force that propelled Jon to fundraise for a Cambodian health clinic when he was just 15, what inspired him to become a doctor, and what ultimately led him to found Iterative Health, a company that is building AI-assisted tools to help detect colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. 

Jon’s odyssey began during his 15th summer, when a friend’s father took him on a medical mission to Cambodia. There, he found himself in a rural health clinic, surrounded by rickety beds, ancient anesthesia machines, and electricity that could cut out during major surgery. 

It was Jon’s first experience with a healthcare system outside of his homeland—Singapore has one of the highest-ranking healthcare systems in the world. Cambodia does not.

“It was eye-opening to say the least,” he recalls.

Even at 15, Jon knew he wanted to do something to help. That something became a fundraiser that raised $300,000 to fund Cambodia’s first pediatric operating room. 

A 14-year journey

Jon quickly realized that to help even more people in Cambodia, he could hold another fundraiser to build an intensive care unit. Next came an education center. Then ultimately, a new hospital. Jon eventually founded a nonprofit called Children of Cambodia to channel his fundraising efforts. 

“It cascaded into a 14-year-journey,” he recalls.

During this time, Jon also completed his military service and went to medical school with the goal of becoming a surgeon and helping people in a more hands-on way. After a wrist injury squashed his dreams of a surgical career, he realized he might be able to help people differently.

“I have the gift of motivating and organizing people,” he realized. “But I needed more tools in the tool kit.”

Computer vision

To restock that kit, Jon headed to the U.S., where he enrolled in an MBA at MIT. Jon fell in love with computer vision technology and how it enables computers to identify objects and people. When he saw how it was used in autonomous vehicles to detect other cars, he wondered: “Why limit this application to cars? Why can’t we do this with tumors or polyps?”

In 2018, Jon founded Iterative Health to do just that. With its narrow tract, the colon was a relatively easy place to test the technology and an important one. Colonoscopies are vital to diagnosing and preventing colorectal cancer—the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. and worldwide.

Jon and his team set about creating SKOUT. Using computer vision, the tool can help analyze and interpret data during colonoscopies, flagging potential polyps for physician review. 

“The idea is to get these tools and data into the hands of physicians and deliver them just-in-time insights and have a shot at changing patient outcomes,” explains Jon.

So far, the data has been promising. SKOUT is now FDA-cleared and clinically proven to help gastroenterologists improve polyp detection, with a 27% relative increase in adenomas (polyps) detected per colonoscopy. 

Since 2021, Iterative Health has gone from being a scrappy startup to a Cambridge, Mass.-based company and has raised $150M in Series B funding, doubled employee headcount and generated over ten clinical publications. 

“It’s been a phenomenal journey,”  says Jon. “Hopefully, we’ll make this technology support as many physicians as possible.” 

Emily Brady

Emily brings 20 years of experience in investigative journalism, writing, and content strategy to Obvious Ventures.

More from Emily