Neurotrack, a Redwood City-based startup developing cognitive tests that can detect impairments in the hippocampus, the first structure in the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s, today announced that it’s raised $21 million in series C financing led by by Khosla Ventures, with participation from strategic investors Sozo Ventures, Japanese insurance providers Dai-ichi Life and Sompo Holdings, Rethink Impact, and AME Cloud Partners. Previous backers include Johnson & Johnson and the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA)
The fresh capital brings Neurotrack’s total funding to date to $50 million, which includes over $7 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health. The company says the investments will be used to drive adoption of its memory health program, advance its mission of changing how people manage their cognitive health, and continue development in global markets.
Former White House and United Nations health program consultant and CEO Elli Kaplan’s life’s work is engineering early detection tools for mild cognitive impairment and related disorders. She cites the sobering statistics: Alzheimer’s affects more than 50 million people around the world (a number that’s expected to double every 20 years and reach 130 million by 2050), and there are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia every year.
“I watched two of my grandparents die ‘alone’ because they could no longer remember their family members who were sitting at their bedsides,” Kaplan, who cofounded Neurotrack in 2012 with neuroscientists Elizabeth Buffalo, Cecelia Manzanares, and Stuart Zola, told VentureBeat in a previous interview.
So how does Neurotrack’s browser- and app-based platform work? It establishes a memory health baseline by tracking users’ eyes for five minutes as they watch a handful of on-screen images. (It takes roughly five business days for the results to come back.) Every three to six months, Neurotrack performs another assessment in order to track changes over time, and it concurrently recommends exercise and sleep routines, diets, and brain games designed to preserve and enhance memory.
Neurotrack’s method — which originated from scientists at Emory University — is backed by 30 years of neuroscience research, including the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER), which showed that a healthy lifestyle can improve cognition in older adults. The startup’s test is capable of reliably tracking the onset of Alzheimer’s within three years and six years at 89% accuracy and 100% accuracy, respectively, Neurotrack claims, and a preliminary study released last fall showed “observable improvements” in cognition among at-risk individuals who engaged with Neurotrack’s tools and services.
Comparably accurate eye-scanning tests previously required bulky, expensive equipment targeted at clinicians, and took up to 30 minutes to complete. Adapting them for at-home use took a combination of data analytics, computer vision, and machine learning, according to Kaplan, as well as a language-agnostic approach to obviate the need for translation and localization.
“As the global crisis around Alzheimer’s continues to grow, we are beginning to see unlikely players stepping up to address the problem in their markets. In Japan, for example, traditional insurance is adopting novel solutions to advance better memory health among its population,” she said. “The disease’s impact on global societies will be devastating if we don’t act now to change its prevalence in future generations. No country is immune to Alzheimer’s. Communities around the world must consider all options for making cognitive health solutions more readily accessible to people, earlier in life.”
Neurotrack has come a long way since winning the health prize at SXSW 2013. In April, it revealed that it’s been awarded a fast-track grant worth up to $3.3 million from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to assess how its program affects memory health in patients at risk for Alzheimer’s and dementias, and it recently partnered with Japanese insurance company Sompo to conduct a 16-week proof-of-concept test with weekly strategies for cognitive health-improving lifestyle changes. Additionally, it’s been used by Brown University, Emory University’s Alzheimer’s Research Center, Stanford University, and others to facilitate Alzheimer’s studies and pharmaceutical trials for the development of treatments and therapies.
“Neurotrack has built an incredible integrative platform that is transforming our battle with Alzheimer’s,” said Rethink Impact founder and general partner Jenny Abramson. “Elli’s two decades of experience in the private sector and in government are helping her scale this solution to the millions of people suffering from cognitive decline around the world. We couldn’t be more excited to continue to support Neurotrack, given both the financial opportunity and the impact they are already having on this critical disease.”