Look into my eyes and what do you see? Turns out the answer is Brain Health

Sachi Koide
Sep 24, 2020 · 6 min read
Photo Sources: Adobe Stock Images

The Eyes are the Window to the Brain

My uncle, an ophthalmologist named Howard, likes to joke that “the brain is just an extension of your retina.” Like saying the Earth is just an extension of New York City or something absurd like that. But it remains true that your eyes really are an interface directly into your brain. And a brilliant Dr. Christy Sheehy believes that eye tracking is the key to analyzing brain health and managing neurological disease. This part is serious. Let’s talk about what the debut of her AI-powered eye-tracking technology could mean for a $35B healthcare industry.

But First, Some Context

Every week over 200 people in the United States alone walk into their doctors’ office to be told, “We finally have a diagnosis.” On average this news has already taken six months of uncertainty and frustration through a process-of-elimination including blood tests, neurological exams, spinal fluid analysis, and an expensive MRI. For many, this diagnosis has taken years.

All to find out, “You have an incurable, difficult to monitor neurological disease.” Multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable and often debilitating disease of the central nervous system affecting almost 1 million Americans. It has no known causes, and sufferers are subject to a lifetime of sporadic relapse, remission, and progression. Symptoms include: blurred/double vision or complete vision loss; headaches; depression; short-term memory loss; Bell’s palsy; seizures; hearing, taste and smell impairment; and much more.

.

MS is a difficult-to-diagnose result of nerve damage with many possible symptoms.

MS is only one example of neurodegenerative diseases that affect roughly 1/6 of the world’s population and cost the US healthcare system $800B+ annually. Factoring in the cost of failed drug trials within the neuro space, this number skyrockets to a $2 trillion burden. A huge driving factor is the lack of existing tools that can effectively assess drug efficacy and track disease progression at a fine scale. Up until now, we haven’t had advanced enough tools.

Enter C. Light Technologies, an AI neurotech company founded by Dr. Christy Sheehy that utilizes a novel patented eye-tracking technology to revolutionize the detection, monitoring, and treatment of neurological disease. She’s starting with MS.

The Brain Health Revolution

In 10 seconds, C. Light can create a highly accurate, objective, and non-invasive fingerprint of neurological health by imaging your retina; the back of the eye, i.e. the front of the brain. Their device tracks eye motion at the cellular level over 120 times more sensitively than any commercial device (e.g., pupil trackers), funnels the results into C. Light Technology’s neural network, and translates them into objective monitoring metrics for the clinician.

MS patients are seen 2–4 times a year to manage disease progression, especially when they are on new drugs. Currently doctors keep track of the disease through a subjective 30-minute round of tests resulting in a disability score that ranges from 0–10 in severity. C. Light’s 10 second eye analysis almost immediately gives the doctor a hands-off, non-invasive, objective dashboard view of brain health and disability score. This is especially important for the low to middle range where severity is difficult to gauge based on symptoms alone.

The ramifications for this technology are endless. Currently it takes 2 years for a physician to understand if their patient’s drugs are working, costing an annual $65–105K in medication and two years of lost time if the drug doesn’t work — there is a high probability that a patient will need to change drugs multiple times during the course of the disease, especially early on. C. Light hopes to drastically reduce that timeline, saving patients from painful disease progression, insurers from extra costs, and doctors time and efficiency. Furthermore, this technology is generating an entire set of data that has never previously existed, that can be commoditized and will advance medical science in neurological health.

How Did She Get Here?

C. Light’s novel technology was developed by CEO and founder Dr. Sheehy during her PhD dissertation work at Berkeley (Vision Science Graduate Group).

She says, “C. Light Technologies really is the merger of two passions of mine: opthalmic innovation and neurodegeneration.” Her background in optical engineering and vision science has trained her to think outside the box and create new technologies that could truly help people.

Coming from a family that has had their fair share of losses due to neurodegenerative diseases and conditions, Dr. Sheehy is very personally motivated to carry out C. Light’s core mission: improving neurodegenerative disease mapping and accompanying therapeutic development in this space.

“If we can help even just one more family to recieve objective feedback for their loved one’s condition, it will all be worth it.” Luckily, this device has the potential to help millions.

Dr. Sheehy also has a master’s degree in optical engineering, has designed 8+ eye tracking systems, and is the acting science research Principle Investigator for C. Light Technologies’ SBIR and STTR grants. Additionally, she worked directly with the neurodegenerative patient population as a scientific researcher at UCSF for half a decade.

Dr. Zachary Helft, PhD (Co- founder / CSO) brings extensive neuroscience and regulatory expertise (Regeneron Pharmaceuticals) and obtained his Ph.D. in the Vision Science Graduate Group at UC Berkeley. James Golden (Interim Head of Data Science) is a postdoctoral scholar at UCSF with previous data science consulting expertise from HITactics and currently manages neural network development. Aidan Leonard (Chief Business Officer) brings complementary business and commercialization skills as a management consultant, as well as BD experience at BioMarin. C. Light augments the team’s core competencies by regularly engaging regulatory, data science, and reimbursement consultants.

In addition to patents on the core technology, C. Light has method patents that cover using the retina to assess neurological health. Their technology is providing an entirely new set of data to commoditize the eye that is currently invisible to other tracking techniques, allowing them a crucial edge within the space for their novel hardware-software combo.

C. Light outperforms competitors across all levels of time required, risk, data quality, and cost. They will sell directly to pharma companies to improve their clinical trials, then sell to MS specialists, neurologists, and health systems with a pay per use model that provides a 50/50 revenue split for physician customers.

They currently have 10 Letters of Intent to Purchase from top practitioners in the neurology space, with more in the funnel.

What’s Next?

C. Light Technologies is actively gearing up to expand to monitoring/diagnosing Alzheimer’s and concussions. According to Dr. Sheehy, Alzheimer’s has always been their intended end-game market, but studies to validate the technology in such a slowly developing disease would require 8–10 years worth of data to watch how the disease unfolds little by little. She says, “MS allows us to see how the eye behaves during short instances of neurodegenerative attacks (relapses). This disease case allows us to track on a much smaller time scale, identify useful visual signatures, and apply them to other neurological diseases. We already see visual differences between concussion and MS ocular presentations and look forward to utilizing this information to create a much faster go-to-market strategy for the larger Alz market.”

Their current studies already include a 3-month Alzheimer’s pilot study with UCSF, a completed UPMC 50-patient concussion pilot, and previous work with Cal Sports Vision Institute on their Baseball D1 team.

What Now?

C. Light Technologies is currently raising $3.5M in seed funds with $2M committed so far. Their lead investor is Creative VC, with notable contributions from The Dorm Room Fund, Bow Capital Fund, Berkeley SkyDeck Fund, Ringold’s Venture Corp, and NIH grant funding for clinical validation.

If you are interested in joining the Vectors Angel syndicate for C. Light Technologies, contact Sachi Koide at sachiye@vectors.earth.

Vectors Angel