Nir Kalkstein: My Algorithms Can Make Cash Or Detect Cancer

Having built one of the world's most successful algorithmic trading companies, Israeli entrepreneur Kalkstein now is putting his mathematical wizardry to saving lives.

Shay Aspril

The following is a summary of a Calcalist cover story last month

TEL AVIV â€" Nir Kalkstein, one of Israel's most successful high-tech entrepreneurs, prefers to fly below the radar. He quietly made millions as the founder 14 years ago of Final, among the world's most successful algorithmic trading companies.

But by 2009 the super low-profile, bright mind behind this money machine came to the conclusion that he had achieved the scientific challenge he had set for himself. Moreover, he began to realize that Final was not generating value for the wider public, but was mainly using a technological advantage to fill up the pockets of its 30 shareholders.

This was the cue that led to Medial, Kalkstein's new venture. This time he is determined to rattle the medical world. Now employing 27 people, and financed personally by Kalkstein with millions of dollars every year, Medial had launched with the goal of developing an algorithmic system for early diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

"We are not the typical commercial company," Ofer Arieli, Kalkstein's business partner, told Calcalist. "We have a shareholder who committed to fund the company for the next years. So, if we are to choose between making a lot of money and saving few people on one hand, and earning little but saving many people on the other hand, we opt for the latter."

Final and Medial founder Nir Kalkstein â€" Photo: Amit Sur/Calcalist

Kalkstein has told his team that even if Medial generates profit, he will reinvest it all in the company. "He doesn't need the money from Medial," notes Arieli. "He has enough."

Hong Kong cash

According to the World Health Organization, every year around 15 million people are diagnosed with cancer, and 7 to 8 million die of the disease.

Just like with Final, Medial's inception required obtaining a huge database that would allow the company's analysis of historical records. Negotiations with Israel's Maccabi Healthcare Services ended with a barter: blood test data in exchange for free diagnosis services. These were then matched with data received from the National Cancer Registry in the Israeli Health Ministry, and the algorithmic models produced are subsequently used for generating an assessment of a patient's likelihood of getting cancer. Similar algorithms will be used for diagnosing esophageal and stomach cancers, and another will try to identify lung cancer.

Medial has also expanded into five additional fields: alerts for deterioration in E.R. patients, identification of possible complications after cardiac catheterization, early detection of epilepsy attacks, early detection of heart failure, and quantifying the personal risk due to a patient's general check-up.

Two years ago Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing agreed to invest in Medial, buying 28% of the share of the daughter company Medial Cancer Screening for $20 million.

And now Medial awaits its next milestone: for its algorithmic system to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"I would have preferred you didn't publish this story now, but rather wait a year or two," Kalkstein tells Calcalist. "When you then come back we would tell you, not only about the models, but also about the people we saved. I hope it happens."

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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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