J&J pumps more cash into California startup with eye-imaging test for Alzheimer's

NeuroVision CEO Steven Verdooner

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) sees big things ahead for California's NeuroVision, so it's expanding its partnership with the company. The move gives NeuroVision a boost as it looks to grab a bigger piece of the market for its Alzheimer's eye-imaging diagnostic.

Under the terms of the deal, J&J's Janssen division will hand over an initial upfront payment and will dole out money further down the line for clinical trials. The company will also give Sacramento, CA-based NeuroVision a milestone payment for regulatory approval.

NeuroVision plans to use the funds to develop its retinal imaging test for early detection and monitoring of Alzheimer's. The test looks for build ups of amyloid-β protein in the retina to flag the disease in patients. The retina has similar characteristics to the brain, so targeting this tissue could help researchers uncover additional insights about Alzheimer's and potentially guide treatment.

NeuroVision has clinical trials for the test underway in the U.S. and Australia. But the latest funding will allow the company to spur "global adoption of its technology" and participate in Janssen clinical trials, which would help build evidence for the tool's effectiveness. The test could offer an advantage over current screening methods such as PET scans and cerebrospinal fluid analysis, which are more costly and time-consuming, the company said in a statement.

The company has already recorded positive early data for its test. In 2014, a study with 40 patients showed that the tool successfully linked amyloid-β protein levels in the retina with amyloid-β levels in the brain that were spotted through PET scanning. The results helped doctors distinguish between Alzheimer's and non-Alzheimer's patients with 100% sensitivity and 80.6% specificity.

"We believe Janssen's support and participation will further validate the NeuroVision technology for detection and measurement of (amyloid-β) plaque in Alzheimer's disease, and its progression. We are thrilled to collaborate with Janssen, and look forward to helping empower and enable new treatments," NeuroVision CEO Steven Verdooner said in a statement.

- here's the statement