As studies show that early diagnosis and preventative therapies can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, startups that are working to diagnose the disease earlier are gaining more attention and funding.
That’s a boon to companies like Neurotrack, which closed on $21 million in new financing led by the company’s previous investor, Khosla Ventures, with participation from new investors Dai-ichi Life and SOMPO Holdings.
Last year, the Japanese life insurance company Dai-ichi Life partnered with Neurotrack to roll out a cognitive assessment tool to the company’s customers in Japan.
And earlier this year, the Japanese health insurer SOMPO conducted a 16-week pilot with Neurotrack, where more than 550 of SOMPO’s employees took Neurotrack’s test and followed the Memory Health Program for four months. Neurotrack and SOMPO are now working to deepen and extend their partnership.
“As the global crisis around Alzheimer’s continues to grow, the private sector is joining government and nonprofits to address the problem in their markets. In Japan, for example, traditional insurance companies are developing novel solutions that incorporate Neurotrack’s products to advance better memory health among its population,” said Elli Kaplan, Neurotrack co-founder and CEO. “These partnerships are innovative models that we hope to replicate in other markets, enabling traditional insurance companies to create new markets while helping to address the Alzheimer’s crisis. And now they’re also investing in our company, so these companies have two ways of doing well by doing good.”
Neurodegenerative disorders are becoming a more serious issue for the island nation — and the rest of the world. In fact, over the weekend the G20 first raised the possibility that aging populations could be a global risk.
“Most of the G20 nations already experience or will experience ageing,” Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, told reporters from Agence France Presse. “We need to discuss problems that arise with societal ageing and how to deal with them.”
In the U.S., the estimated cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer’s and other dementias was an estimated $277 billion in 2018, according to a study cited by WebMD. Roughly $186 billion of those costs are borne by Medicare and Medicaid, with another $60 billion in payments coming out-of-pocket. That number could top $1.1 trillion by 2050, according to the same report.
Neurotrack uses cognitive assessments that follow eye movements using the camera on a computer or mobile phone to create a baseline for cognitive functions. The company then uses a combination of brain training and diet, exercise and sleep adjustments to try to improve cognitive function and health.
Its technology is one of several different approaches startups are taking to try to provide early diagnoses and potential preventative measures against the disease.
MyndYou, another company tackling neurodegenerative diagnostics, uses an app to monitor movement among its users. The company assesses that data to determine whether there may be any issues related to cognitive function. It recently partnered with the Japanese company Mizuho to test its efficacy among Japan’s aging population.
Then there’s Altoida, another startup that launched recently to tackle the cognitive assessment market. It uses augmented reality and a series of memory tests to assess brain function and attempt to detect neurodegeneration.
Neurotrack’s technology, based on research from Emory University, has managed to attract more than just Japanese corporations. Previous investors like Sozo Ventures, Rethink Impact, AME Cloud Partners and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff have also thrown cash behind the company.
To date, the company has raised more than $50 million, including $6.8 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Aging.
The company said its new investment will be used to develop new partnerships in additional global markets and continue research and development.
“One can now feel empowered to test for potential memory decline, given that Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program can help stave off cognitive decline. This fully integrated platform enables users to assess the state of their memory, reduce future risk for decline, and monitor progress in order to take better control of one’s memory health. We combine these tools with deep analytics to further target and personalize, creating a very powerful precision medicine solution,” said Kaplan. “Just as when you go on a diet, you use a scale to provide evidence that you’re losing weight. Neurotrack now has the equivalent of both a scale to measure and the Memory Health Program for cognitive health. This is a game-changer for dementia risk.”
Japan has national efforts targeting a reduction in the onset of dementia in 6% of people in their 70s by 2025 (the country has the world’s largest population of the elderly, with more than 20% of the country over the age of 65). Roughly 13 million people are expected to develop Alzheimer’s in Japan by 2025.
Part of the company’s success in fundraising comes from the results of a preliminary study that showed improved cognitive functions for people diagnosed with some decline in cognitive function after a year of using Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program. The company claims it has the the first fully integrated, clinically validated platform that can assess a person’s cognition through its cognitive assessment — which can predict conversion from healthy to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or MCI to Alzheimer’s disease within three years at 89% accuracy, and within six years at 100% accuracy.
While that kind of assessment is good, Alzheimer’s symptoms can begin to appear as early as 25 years before the onset of the disease. So there’s still work to be done.
“Neurotrack has built an incredible integrative platform that is transforming our battle with Alzheimer’s,” said Jenny Abramson, founder and managing partner of Rethink Impact. “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.”
Read more: techcrunch.com