Three Novel Partnerships in Ophthalmology (Part Two)

Part Two – Three Novel Partnerships in Ophthalmology - Eye On Innovation Article - OIS - Healthegy

Two weeks ago, we began reviewing collaborations between ophthalmic start-ups and institutions or groups that traditionally haven’t been involved in developing medical technology, such as physician groups, hospitals, and insurance companies.

In this week’s issue, we look at two more such partnerships and some of the potential benefits to start-ups when they think outside the box when deciding with whom to partner.

Vizzario and VSP
Earlier this year, VSP Global – formerly known as Vision Service Plan and today the largest vision care insurance plan in the US – announced a $2 million investment in Vizzario Inc., a California-based start-up, to develop eye care technologies to track visual acuity, eye strain, traumatic brain injury, and sports vision performance.

Vizzario is, at its core, a data exchange platform. The platform collects data generated from technologies such as smart devices, wearables, eye-tracking tools, electroencephalogram systems, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Vizzario then analyzes the data through machine learning, computer vision, and deep learning techniques to help monitor and predict health outcomes.

The partnership between VSP and Vizzario was fostered through an ongoing relationship with VSP Global’s innovation lab, The Shop.

“As VSP Global’s innovation lab, part of our mission is to forge partnerships with a number of different entities – including promising new start-ups like Vizzario,” says Jay Sales, co-director of The Shop at VSP Global. “We are a health care company, but we also have our own deep roots in technology. So when we see exciting innovations and platforms emerging, it’s critical that we explore ways to partner with and learn from them.” That gives VSP “a seat at the table” and enables it to lend its expertise to develop solutions for eye care.

The size difference between a start-up such as Vizzario and a behemoth like VSP – it has 77 million plan subscribers – is part of what makes these partnerships fruitful, Sales says. “When any large organization partners with a smaller entity, you’re going to encounter different methods of operation and philosophy. That can take some getting used to,but that’s also the beauty of it,” he continues. “A start-up by its very nature is scrappy and will operate much more nimbly than a bigger company. They simply don’t have the legacy of ‘This is how we do it.’ They offer a fresh perspective and new ways of solving problems. On the flip side, they also benefit from our extensive expertise, our resources, and our insight into a complicated industry.”

DeepMind and Moorfields UK
Although DeepMind is not technically a start-up anymore (it was founded in London in 2010 and acquired by Google in 2014), the company continues to be based in London, alongside some of the country’s leading academic, cultural, and scientific organizations in what is known as the King’s Cross Knowledge Quarter.

In July, the DeepMind Health artificial intelligence project and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London announced they were teaming up for a five-year venture to develop an algorithm using 1 million de-identified optical coherence tomography (OCT) retina scans from the Moorfields’ database. The goal of the partnership is to speed up and improve diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy. OCT scans are highly complex and require specialized training to analyze. As a result, there are often significant delays in how quickly patients can be diagnosed and treated. Traditional computer analysis tools have been unable to solve this problem. 

The project came about after Moorfields ophthalmologist Pearse Keane, MD, approached DeepMind to explore how DeepMind’s machine learning technology could be used to analyze scans to provide a better understanding of eye disease.

This may be another important change signaled by these unconventional partnerships: not only are start-ups thinking outside the box in terms of whom to partner with, but organizations outside of medtech are looking to get involved in the medtech space through partnering with start-ups.

Are you aware of any other unconventional partnerships within the ophthalmic space? If so, email your thoughts to Michael@EthisInc.com.

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