Texas-based iPhone vision test startup Vital Art and Science (maker of MyVisionTrack) has raised $550,000 in first round funding from the North Texas Angel Network (NTAN).
The company's flagship product, myVisionTrack, is an iPhone 4S-based shape discrimination hyperacuity test for patients with serious degenerative eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy (DR) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). VAS secured FDA clearance for MyVisionTrack in March and is currently seeking a CE Mark to market the software in Europe.
NTAN is an investor group originally started by VAS President Mike Bartlett.
"I was member number one of the NTAN in 2008," Bartlett told MobiHealthNews, "and just as I had hoped, the day came when I needed funding for my company. We were pretty happy that we didn't need to go anywhere else."
Fifteen of the 17 investors in the round were from NTAN, Bartlett said. This is the first funding round for the company, although it has previously received money through a number of different channels including an NIH grant, clinical trial funding from Novartis, and a small investment from a local fund called the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.
The company, which has just two full-time employees and 10 contractors, is continuing to pursue licensing agreements with pharmaceutical companies as its strategy for marketing myVisionTrack.
"For a small company to talk directly to doctors and patients is not a feasible thing to do," Bartlett said. "If I work through the drug companies, they've got the big sales staff, they've got reach around the world. If we want to get our test out quickly, to lots of places, we have to work with the big drug companies."
Bartlett said myVisionTrack is in talks with four pharmaceutical companies to distribute iPhones preloaded with myVisionTrack along with the drugs Lucentis and Eylea. Patients would use the software to monitor their vision regularly at home, and those results could be sent directly to their physicians. Bartlett also said the drug has great potential in clinical trials. Since degenerative eye conditions can take many years to develop, the cost of continued clinical visits in such a long term trial add up, he said; replacing those visits with software would constitute a significant savings. Lucentis is marketed by Novartis and Genentech, while Eylea is being co-developed by Sanofi-Aventis and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
The money from the raise will help the company enhance their value proposition for the drug companies by making cosmetic improvements to the app, securing reimbursement from insurers, and applying for additional patents.
Bartlett believes a combination of a good intellectual property portfolio and clinical validation will give them a leg up on any up-and-coming competitors.
"What we see, especially in the last 12 months, we see a lot of others who've suddenly discovered you can do a vision test on the smartphone," he said. "I haven't seen anybody else going the route we have -- full clinical validation, regulatory approval. And that's what it's going to take to convince clinicians and big drug companies to use your product."