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AI-based eye disease detection start-up raises $18 million from US investors

Melbourne-based healthtech startup Eyetelligence, which uses advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology and retinal imaging to screen for eye and other diseases, has raised $12 million from New York investor Ascertain.

Eyetelligence’s AI products are already being marketed in Australia, including by Bupa Optical and the George & Matilda optometry chain, as well as in New Zealand, Europe and Japan.

The technology behind it was developed by Professor Mingguang He, of the University of Melbourne and the Center for Eye Research Australia, who co-founded Eyetillenge with Jason Sun.

“The three most common eye diseases – diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma – can be detected much earlier with algorithmic retinal image analysis. However, these three diseases are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Professor He.

“The eye is a window through which we can discern any disease that affects the microvascular system. With this technology, clinicians can act faster and avoid significant impacts on quality of life.”

The Melbourne startup’s approach is similar to New Zealand startup Toku Eyes, which developed an AI platform to improve the early detection of eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and other eye-detectable diseases, and raised NZ$3.6 million (A$3.35 million) raised a Seed round in 2021.

Eyetelligence is the first international investment from Ascertain, a collaboration between healthcare-focused venture studio Aegis Ventures and Northwell Health, one of the largest healthcare systems in the US. Ascertain helps accelerate the development of healthcare AI companies worldwide

Prof He said Ascertain sees the potential of Eyetelligence’s technology for the US.

Eyetelligence will be rebranded and launched in the US as Optain, offering non-invasive point-of-care technology to diagnose a range of diseases faster and less expensively.

Jeff Dunkel, CEO of Optain, said their technology will make preventive care ubiquitous, putting diagnostic tools in the hands of clinicians everywhere.

“The healthcare industry has made a concerted effort in recent years to shift treatment from reactive patient care to proactive preventive care, but many of the outdated screening and diagnostic technologies used by clinicians today are expensive and inaccessible. Optain will accelerate that shift,” he said.

“The most immediate opportunity for impact is within ophthalmology. Optain’s first goal is to expand access to screening and diagnosis for preventable eye diseases, closing critical gaps in health equity, particularly in underserved communities where diagnostic and screening tools are unavailable.

Austrade Deputy CEO Daniel Boyer said Ascertain’s investment in Eyetelligence is a nod to Australia’s advanced biotech sector.

“Australia has a successful track record of health and biomedical innovations that have scaled up internationally. Our world-class universities, highly skilled talent and additional regulations make our health tech ecosystem a global leader,” he said.

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