Elli Kaplan’s company Neurotrack says it’s developed a cognitive screening test that can be done in just three minutes.
Earlier this month, one of the first comprehensive studies of cognitive issues found that nearly one in ten Americans over the age of 65 has dementia, and another 22% may have mild cognitive impairments. The numbers rise with age, with 35% of Americans in their 90s having dementia. While there’s no cure for dementia or the specific diseases, like Alzheimer’s, that cause it, there are ways to slow it down if it’s caught early. That’s one reason why Medicare requires cognitive screening for annual wellness visits.
One challenge with this type of screening, says Elli Kaplan, CEO and cofounder of Neurotrack, is that doctors sometimes have a rough time integrating it into their workflows. That’s where her company fits in. It developed a 3-minute digital test that screens for two key measures of cognitive health: processing speed (how fast people respond and process to information) and executive function (which includes mental agility, problem solving and other traits) that can be integrated into a wellness visit as part of checking other vital signs. “We really want cognitive testing to become the next vital sign that gets selected at every appointment,” she says.
On Tuesday, the company announced that it raised a $10 million investment round to accelerate its push to market for its cognitive testing products. The financing brings the company’s total funding to about $57 million, with investors including Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures and Salesforce cofounder Reid Hoffman.
Kaplan cofounded Neurotrack in 2012, along with neuroscientists Stuart Zola, Elizabeth Buffalo and Cecelia Manzanares. She was inspired by her own history: two of her grandparents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She was struck, she said, by how difficult it was both to get the initial diagnosis as well as accessing the care needed for someone suffering from the disease. Kaplan comes from a family of physicians, and realized if it was difficult for her family, which is experienced in working with the healthcare system, to get the right care, it must be even more difficult for everyone else. It’s “very personal for me,” she says. “And I’m not gonna rest until we’ve really tackled this problem.
For the past 10 years, Neurotrack has been researching and developing digital tools that can be used to both screen for and diagnose dementia risk. The company has run several clinical studies to validate its tools and published results, and is currently registered as a class 2 medical device with the FDA.
Rebecca Edelmayer, the Alzheimer’s Association’s senior director of scientific engagement reviewed some of the studies and told Forbes via email that while some of them are too small to generalize results to a larger population yet, the type of technology that Neurotrack is developing “will (once validated) play an important role in addressing early detection associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.”
Kaplan notes that the screening test her company developed is not the final word. If the initial screening shows a reason for concern, she says, a patient would move on to more tests, and “with those tests, we would then get a deeper insight into their overall cognition.” From there, the company also provides digital tools for doctors to help develop a care plan for their patients. It’s also, she says, in the process of developing a digital therapeutic for mild cognitive impairments. The goal there, she says, is to “delay and prevent cognitive decline when early signs are detected.”
With the new infusion of capital, the company aims to scale the commercialization of its technology, getting its screening test into the hands of physicians and helping them integrate it into a wellness exam.
“I believe that the challenge for Neurotrack is not around technology, it is around how do they really operationalize making the Neurotrack test incredibly simple for when people go to their wellness exams,” says Hayes Drumwright, CEO of Popin, an investor in Neurotrack. Drumwright went on to say the company has strong promise here. “Overall, this is massively more efficient than what’s currently in the market.”