By observing precisely how a patient interacts with virtual objects and augmented reality, Altoida aims to provide a set of digital biomarkers that can track the health of the brain and spot the signs of Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms become apparent.
And to help do it, the company has raised $6.3 million in a series A round led by Merck KGaA’s startup financing arm, M Ventures. Other backers included Grey Sky Venture Partners, VI Partners AG, Alpana Ventures and FYRFLY Venture Partners.
In the near term, Altoida plans to use the proceeds to kick off its commercialization work in the U.S. and Europe while also expanding its broader global presence. Its brain health data platform has already received FDA clearance and a CE mark.
“Altoida is at the forefront of a new era to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to assess brain health,” Alexander Hoffmann, a principal on M Ventures’ new businesses team, said in a statement. “Our investment reflects our belief that digital biomarkers are the future and might lead to earlier diagnosis, and potentially better supportive care for a wide range of brain diseases.”
Using a tablet’s camera, accelerometer and gyroscope, Altoida’s platform has users play a virtual version of hide-and-seek: As they move around computer-generated objects in their physical space, artificial intelligence notes any small mistakes to analyze a person’s spatial reasoning and motor skills as well as the brain’s executive function.
By tracking these “micro-errors,” as the company calls them, along with a broad set of digital biomarkers, Altoida says it is able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease six to 10 years before the onset of cognitive symptoms.
“Searching for early, more accurate and scalable preclinical markers of Alzheimer’s disease has been the holy grail for clinicians, researchers and pharma companies alike that are trying to predict Alzheimer’s-type cognitive decline and develop early interventions,” said Altoida’s co-founder and chief scientific officer, Ioannis Tarnanas.
By offering a method to track progression using only a mobile phone or tablet—without tissue sampling, radiologic imaging or prolonged cognitive testing—the company aims to stem the cost of monitoring and screening for Alzheimer’s and related dementias in an aging population. The app is designed for use by primary care physicians as well as neurologists and other healthcare professionals.
“While we know that early detection of Alzheimer’s is the key and leads to better outcomes, only 16% of seniors today receive regular assessments in the U.S., and this situation becomes more critical as we look at other geographic regions,” said Altoida co-founder and CEO Richard Fischer. “Today’s diagnosis methods are either outdated, costly and invasive, or highly nuanced.”
Altoida is a member of RADAR-AD, an international public-private research consortium launched (PDF) earlier this year focused on validating quantitative measures of functional decline in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s. Funded by the EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative, the project also counts Takeda Pharmaceutical, Eli Lilly, and Novartis as partners, as well as the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institute.