Optina Diagnostics nabs Boehringer's support in $20M VC round for retina-based Alzheimer's test

Optina’s platform uses a hyperspectral camera to photograph the retina, then analyzes those images with machine learning algorithms to classify neurological biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease. (Bruno Henrique/Pixabay)

Because there’s no single FDA-approved test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, physicians typically have to spend months or even years using the process of elimination to rule out a host of other conditions before doling out a definitive diagnosis of dementia.

Optina Diagnostics, however, is aiming to pare down that painstaking process. It’s developing an artificial intelligence-powered platform to identify and classify biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s that are found not on the brain itself, but in the back of the eye.

In support of that mission, Optina has found itself the target of a venture funding round worth $24.8 million in Canadian dollars, or about $20.1 million U.S. The series A was led by DigitalDx Ventures and also included backing from Boehringer Ingelheim’s VC arm, as well as Desjardins Capital, Hike Ventures, Advisors Fund, MEDTEQ+ and Biomed Propulsion.

With the new financing, Optina will continue to develop its Retinal Deep Phenotyping platform and accelerate clinical trials of its first Alzheimer’s diagnostic to support the company’s eventual submission for FDA approval of the test.

RELATED: New startup uses fine retinal movements as a window into brain health

The Montreal-based startup’s platform relies on a hyperspectral camera and machine learning AI algorithms to detect biological signals linked to dementia. The ophthalmic camera, which received FDA clearance in May 2020, captures images of the retina—which has a direct link to the brain for image processing—at a variety of wavelengths in the span of less than one second.

Optina’s machine learning algorithms then proceed to analyze those images of the nerve tissue at the back of the eye to spot signs of Alzheimer’s. The first diagnostic designed to run on the platform is focused on determining whether amyloid plaques associated with the disease are present on the brain, which can normally only be detected using pricey PET scans.

The platform was awarded the FDA’s breakthrough device designation in June 2019. That classification clears out some of the obstacles in Optina’s pathway toward regulatory clearance for the technology, speeding up the whole process and giving the company access to additional guidance from FDA experts.

RELATED: 2 studies use retinal scans to potentially identify earlier signs of Alzheimer’s disease

Optina’s latest funding round comes several years after and significantly dwarfs its previous fundraising. That $4 million Canadian ($3.2 million U.S.) seed funding closed in October 2018. It was led by Zoic Capital and also included participation from series A backers Desjardins Capital, DigitalDx Ventures, Advisors Fund and Hike Ventures, among others.