Neurotrack attracted $2 million in Series A funding, a vote of confidence for its highly unusual approach toward potential early Alzheimer's diagnosis. The California startup believes its computer-based "behavioral biomarker" cognitive test can get the job done, even before symptoms appear.
Tech tycoon Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and an influential biotech investor, led the round through his outfit Founders Fund. The Social + Capital Partnership also participated in the funding, along with a number of angel investors. In a statement, Thiel said Neurotrack is bringing "disruptive technology" to the fight against Alzheimer's.
"We need new thinking and new approaches to get around road blocks that have been holding back the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's," Thiel said. (He was recently named one of FierceBiotech's top biotech billionaires.)
Neurotrack, based in Palo Alto, CA, debuted in 2012; the company's core technology is licensed from Emory University. The basic pitch: Neurotrack's test is a computer-based diagnostic that is objective, non-invasive and cheap. Essentially, it tracks recognition memory by relying on a person's instinctive preference for novelty, Neurotrack explains on its website. An algorithm analysis uses this data to help identify any disturbances in the hippocampus before patients develop any symptoms. Neurotrack said its test could potentially predict the onset of Alzheimer's 3 to 6 years before patients develop actual symptoms.
Neurotrack sees an opening created by drug companies' failure to develop a treatment for late-stage Alzheimer's. The focus now is on concocting Alzheimer's treatments that can work even before symptoms appear. Researchers want the new batch of drugs under development to prevent Alzheimer's advance and want to catch the disease before it causes too much neurological damage.
Some telltale Alzheimer's signs include the buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in different regions of the brain. Doctors make probable diagnoses based on factors including patient interviews, a number of neuropsychological tests, brain imaging and tests of spinal fluid. But none of those options are definitive, and an autopsy after a patient dies is typically the only way to know definitively.
Neurotrack CEO Elli Kaplan argues in a statement that Neurotrack's test could help fuel new Alzheimer's clinical trials by taking the risk and cost out of the equation because it would hopefully identify pre-symptomatic Alzheimer's patients with great certainty that are ripe for treatment tests.
Companies and researchers are taking very different approaches toward developing early-stage Alzheimer's diagnostics. Cognoptix in Massachusetts celebrated robust results recently from a clinical trial of an eye-scanning test designed to spot early-stage Alzheimer's patients. Others are developing imaging agents designed to work through the use of PET scanning to highlight beta-amyloid or tau proteins in the brain. But Neurotrack's concept could potentially screen for Alzheimer's patients even before those proteins build up.
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