Center for Drug Design Begins Collaboration to Commercialize New Technology for Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease

October 17, 2018

Women's eye

The University of Minnesota and medical imaging company RetiSpec announced a collaboration and licensing agreement that will allow the company to further develop and bring to market a University technology for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

The collaboration provides RetiSpec, a startup based in Toronto, Canada, with exclusive access to an imaging system developed by researchers Robert Vince, Ph.D., Swati More, Ph.D., and James Beach, Ph.D., in the Center for Drug Design (CDD) in the University’s College of Pharmacy and licensed through U of M Technology Commercialization. This collaboration will expand RetiSpec’s technological knowledge base and accelerate time-to-market for a commercially viable screening tool for Alzheimer’s. The system, confirmed in preclinical studies and a human pilot study, scans a patient’s eye to detect small quantities of a protein called beta amyloid long before they collect in large enough clusters to form plaques in the brain—a biological sign of Alzheimer’s disease progression.

“This is the first diagnostic method developed to detect signs of Alzheimer’s well before plaques form in the brain and patients begin to exhibit the outwardly observable symptoms of this devastating disease, such as disorientation and memory loss,” said Vince, CDD director and professor of pharmacy. “We are excited by the potential early detection holds in giving existing treatments the best chance of success and opening the doors to the development of new drug therapies.”

An estimated 47 million people worldwide currently live with Alzheimer’s disease at a collective cost of $604 billion (USD), according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The complex degenerative disease, which develops slowly over decades, causes symptoms such as cognitive impairment and lack of awareness, as well as complications that ultimately lead to death. Early detection can improve the prognosis and quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients.

“The problem is that today we diagnose Alzheimer's when it is already affecting the way we think and reason, and it is too late,” said Eliav Shaked, founder and CEO of RetiSpec. “The challenge for both drug developers and clinicians is to intervene early enough to matter. The current industry standard, based on detection of cerebral beta amyloid plaque deposits using brain imaging, is both costly and not accessible, so today we practically only go to confirm Alzheimer's well after symptoms occur. With this new technology, we envision facilitating a noninvasive, simple, and cost-effective screening of Alzheimer’s disease pathology years before the emergence of clinical symptoms.”

In University preclinical studies, the technology detected Alzheimer’s disease in mice 25 percent sooner than methods based on visible plaque formation. The University’s collaboration with RetiSpec comes following a successful pilot clinical study demonstrating the capabilities of the technology, involving 31 participants both with and without Alzheimer’s. Moving forward, RetiSpec will integrate the early detection technology into its own machine learning platform, allowing it to perform data analysis as it tests the combined technologies in diagnosing Alzheimer’s during an upcoming three-site clinical study. 

“This early detection technology holds great promise not only in indicating when to begin treatment for Alzheimer’s, but in monitoring the effectiveness of treatments in individual patients over time,” said More, associate professor in the CDD. “With this new capability in our toolbox, we hope to improve the quality of life and make progress toward developing new treatments that could someday make it possible to halt or reverse the progression of the disease.”

Detecting Alzheimer's with an Eye Exam

Read the U of M press release

Watch a video demonstrating the technology

U of M Center for Drug Design
The Center for Drug Design (CDD) was created to combine research and scholarship leading to the development of novel drugs for therapeutic applications, such as HIV, cancer, neurological diseases, dermatological agents, infectious diseases, novel processes and medical devices. The CDD combines academic tradition with an expectation of innovation and independence to provide value for the University’s academic and research communities.

U of M Technology Commercialization
University of Minnesota Technology Commercialization facilitates the transfer of University research to licensee companies for the development of new products and services that benefit the public good, foster economic growth, and generate revenue to support the University's mission. The University holds 900 patents and 1,800 current licenses for U of M technology in health, biotechnology, chemistry, engineering, agriculture, and a variety of other fields important to the economy.

RetiSpec is a medical imaging company developing a tool for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers in the eye using machine learning. RetiSpec’s test is noninvasive, simple to administer, and inexpensive compared to current practices. This advantage of accessible and scalable screening enables widespread early detection of Alzheimer’s disease pathology. The company is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, and is part of the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI), Biomedical Zone, NEXT Canada, Ontario Centre of Excellence and The Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI)’s network of companies.



Media Contacts

Dawn Tucker
College of Pharmacy
Eileen Omizo-Whittenberg
College of Pharmacy