Patients with diabetes have a host of health issues to contend with, from nerve damage to chronic kidney conditions. One distressing potential heath complication is impaired vision; in fact approximately half of diabetes patients develop diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness.
Ali Basiri, founder and researcher at Bioxytech Retina, and currently serving as its CEO, is aiming to change that trajectory with a non-invasive retinal oximetry device that will detect diabetic retinopathy earlier, before the onset of structural damage detectable with current technology, to treat the condition before it progresses.
Bioxytech Retina recently joined Fogarty Innovation’s Company Accelerator Program (CAP), a six-month cross-functional mentoring program that helps early-stage companies hone their business model and make progress toward key milestones.
A seed is planted, leading to an innovative device
Ali came to the United States in 2006 to pursue his master’s degree in satellite communication at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He was planning to work after obtaining his master’s degree until he could identify a research topic for his Ph.D., when he learned about a project that had been launched by the Wilmer Eye Institute at John Hopkins Medicine.
The Wilmer team was aiming to develop a device that could non-invasively measure the oxygen levels in the retina in patients with diabetes. Initial studies had shown improvement in the vision of patients who received supplemental oxygen, and the device would allow clinicians to test patients for the condition and check the effects of the treatment.
This breakthrough idea of measuring oxygen levels in the eye in order to detect retinal disease earlier stuck with Ali, who decided to pursue a Ph.D. and do his dissertation on noninvasive retinal oximetry. During this program, he got married and relocated to Silicon Valley. While finishing his dissertation, he was introduced to several incubator programs, which piqued his curiosity about the Bay Area’s thriving startup ecosystem.
Ali joined QB3 to continue his work to improve retinal oximetry and made good progress. He incorporated Bioxytech Retina in 2015 and filed his first patent, subsequently receiving Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which allowed the startup to work on proof of concept and clinical validation. Ali continued to fine tune the technology and make connections with ophthalmologists, ultimately choosing to work with Bay Area Retina Associates in Oakland, California, and the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford University
Early studies have been promising, showing the technology detects diabetic retinopathy 4 to 13 months earlier than existing methods.
Experienced Fogarty team helps guide crucial next steps
Increasingly Ali began forging connections with the team at Fogarty. He met Fogarty COO Denise Zarins while giving a presentation at WSGR and was subsequently invited to present at Fogarty Innovation. He was then introduced to Greg Bakan, director of strategic initiatives, who helped him submit a winning proposal for the Phase II NSF grant and encouraged him to join the CAP program.
Now the Fogarty team is helping him select the optimal FDA path and commercialization strategies as they prepare to raise Series A funding, undergo clinical trials and expand the team, while continuing to look into potential treatment opportunities.
“Because this is an attractive project, I have been fortunate to connect with wonderful advisors along the way and have built a strong network, especially in the clinical aspect of our work, which has allowed the company to successfully achieve milestones like building our device, proof of concept, partnering with a local retina clinic and we are now at the point where we can focus on commercialization and expand our team,” Ali said. “That’s why I’m thrilled to have the expertise of the Fogarty Innovation leadership to help guide me through an array of upcoming opportunities that will accelerate our journey as we aim to make a meaningful impact on patients and their families.”