Innodem Neurosciences received $6 million to advance its digital biomarker eye-tracking technology as a possible way of diagnosing and monitoring neurodegenerative diseases. The technology is now being tested in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Money raised by the Montreal-based startup came through a series A financing round led by Morningside Ventures.
“Morningside is the ideal investor to help us transition our novel technology into a future industry standard,” Marc Reeves, Innodem’s co-founder and chief business officer, said in a press release.
“This technology will be highly accessible and improve the quality of care and patient outcomes, with unseen levels of user-friendliness and cost-effectiveness for the global health system,” Reeves added.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as MS are characterized by progressive damage to nerve cells, ultimately resulting in their death. Increasing evidence shows that these neurodegenerative processes affect the brain circuits of the eye, leading to eye movement abnormalities and eye problems.
As such, researchers have been working on ways to detect subtle changes in eye movement that may be used as markers to improve either diagnosing or monitoring people with neurodegenerative diseases. Notably, these neurologic changes may not be detected through MRI scans.
In particular, abnormal eye movements in MS patients were shown to be associated with a greater level of disability, suggesting that they could be used to monitor disease progression.
Innodem’s patented eye-tracking technology was first applied to Pigio, an app designed to help people unable to speak, due to mobility issues or medical conditions, to communicate and navigate the web through eye movements.
Continuous collection of anonymous data on eye movement from Pigio users helped to further refine the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm behind the technology, allowing the detection of subtle, but likely clinically relevant, changes in eye movements.
“The interesting thing with mobile artificial intelligence applications is that the more data we obtain, the more accurate our algorithms become at detecting and tracking the presence and progression of these various devastating neurological conditions,” said Etienne de Villers-Sidani, MD, Innodem’s main founder, CEO, and chief scientific officer.
de Villers-Sidani is also a researcher and neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (NEURO) in Canada.
The company has been working with pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals, and AI experts to develop reliable eye movement biomarkers (EMBs) and gaze mapping biomarkers (GMBs) of neurodegenerative conditions.
Of note, GBMs concern gaze patterns that can be used to assess various aspects of cognitive function, such as attention, processing speed, and working memory.
This resulted in the development of an intuitive app, connected to a cloud-based AI platform, that captures the user’s eye movements (plus EMBs and GMBs) during a series of tests that lasts a few minutes.
“Digital EMB & GMB tests are non-invasive and can be completed in minutes by the patient from the comfort of their own home,” de Villers-Sidani said, adding that “remote self-testing is a major advantage, even more so during a global pandemic.”
He also noted that the new app is the result of “a collaborative effort” with his colleagues at the Montreal NEURO and McGill University, also in Montreal, “since access to well-[characterized] patients is crucial for the training and refinement of our technology.”
Enrolled patients are asked to complete bi-weekly EMB/GMB tests so that researchers can assess at what point the transition from CIS to RRMS occurs. Innodem hopes that the trial’s data will demonstrate that these new digital biomarkers can help measure clinically relevant changes accurately and cost-effectively, while improving quality of care and patient outcomes.
In collaboration with the Montreal NEURO and a leading pharmaceutical, the company is also planning to launch a similar multi-year trial involving people with RRMS and secondary-progressive MS.
The goal is to use technology to track disease progression, changes in cognitive function, and treatment responses.
“A clinician whose patient is transitioning to the progressive form of MS [from RRMS to SPMS] may recommend a better adapted treatment which could, if detected early, prevent this individual from developing severe neurological impairments,” said de Villers-Sidani.
“No practical tools currently exist to detect such a transition to progressive MS and I believe EMBs & GMBs can fill that important gap,” he added.
Innodem hopes that, in the future, this EMB/GMB platform will help to accurately diagnose and monitor neurological disorders affecting eye movements or cognitive function, including MS, Parkinson’s or related disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and cancer-related cognitive impairments.
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