08 May 2018
Johnson & Johnson and Nikon venture units back developer of fluorescence-based diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s.
Two major medical technology firms are among the investors to support a series C round of venture finance for NeuroVision Imaging, the Californian company working on a new way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.
Sacramento-based NeuroVision says it has raised $11.2 million - out of a planned $15 million - and counts Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and the Nikon-SBI Innovation Fund among its backers.
The latest round, led by previous investor Wildcat Capital Management, also drew support from Whittier Ventures and VSP Global.
Amyloid beta plaque
Founded in 2010, NeuroVision is developing a fluorescence-based retinal imaging system that has been shown to identify amyloid beta plaque - a tell-tale sign of Alzheimer’s, albeit one whose precise relationship with disease development is not yet fully understood - in live animals and ex vivo human eyes.
The company is now conducting clinical trials in the hope of validating an early-stage diagnostic test for the debilitating disease, which is estimated to affect nearly 50 million worldwide.
The idea behind the experimental technology is to assess the accumulation of amyloid beta plaque in the brain – described by the company as a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s disease, and potentially a way to monitor the effectiveness of new drug therapies.
At the moment, only positron emission tomography (PET) scans and cerebrospinal fluid analysis are used to detect amyloid as an aid in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
But PET instruments are hugely costly, while the fluid analysis procedures are invasive, inconvenient, and impractical for routine screening, disease monitoring, and evaluation of therapy response.
The NeuroVision alternative is to evaluate plaques on the retina, regarded as a “developmental outgrowth” of the central nervous system that shares many of the brain’s characteristics.
Studies by a team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have shown that amyloid beta plaque accumulating in the brain also builds up in the retina, and shares similar plaque structures. That team was led by NeuroVision’s chairman and founder Keith Black, with the company holding an exclusive worldwide license to the technology.
In 2016, the Sacramento firm raised $10 million in a series B funding round also led by Wildcat Capital Management, while last year its clinical trial team reported that patients with Alzheimer’s had five times more “retinal plaque burden” than a control group, and retinal autofluorescence twice the control group’s level.
Leonard Potter, chief investment officer and president at Wildcat Capital Management, added in a company release that Alzheimer’s disease provided an important target for investors.
“The Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today, and that number is expected to reach nearly 14 million by 2050,” he said. “It is imperative that innovative companies find solutions to this growing threat, and that depends on quality organizations providing the resources to support their work.”