Aegis Ventures and Northwell Holdings, the investment arm of the New York-based health system, on Tuesday launched Optain, a company that aims to use AI-backed retinal imaging to catch early signs of disease. The partners also provided an initial seed investment of $12 million.
Though the startup is new to the U.S. market, Aegis and Northwell said the tech can be traced back to Australian company Eyetelligence, which launched in 2019. The company offers screening for diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma based on work by professor Mingguang He from the University of Melbourne and the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
Jeff Dunkel, Optain’s CEO, said the goal is to provide more accessible diagnostic technology so providers can offer preventative care instead of reacting once their patients are already sick.
“The most immediate opportunity for impact is within ophthalmology,” Dunkel said in a statement. “Optain’s first goal is to expand access to screenings and diagnosis for preventable eye disease, closing critical health equity gaps, particularly in underserved communities where diagnostic and screening tools aren’t available.”
THE LARGER TREND
Optain is the first company Aegis and Northwell have launched through Ascertain, their AI company creation partnership that began about a year ago.
The firms said this also marks their first investment in AI developed in another country. They hope to speed regulatory approval for these companies and then scale them in the U.S.
However, Aegis and Northwell have collaborated on another digital health company. In November, they announced they had signed an agreement to launch Upliv, a virtual menopause care startup.
John Beadle, managing partner at Aegis Ventures, told MobiHealthNews late last year that partnerships between venture capital and traditional healthcare companies were a growing trend in 2022, citing examples like General Catalyst’s Health Assurance network and Aegis’ partnership with Northwell.
“When we work with them, it’s truly us sitting in the trenches with clinical leaders and administrative leaders, trying to better understand how we can deliver models that bring innovation and existing healthcare incumbents closer together,” he said.