“Because Eyesight Matters”: Diagnosing eye diseases at an early stage

For the National Day of the Visually Impaired we interviewed Timothé Laforest of EarlySight.

The day of the visually impaired is a national day of action in Germany that has been celebrated on June 6th since 1998 to draw attention to the situation and concerns of people with visual impairments. The campaign is led by the German Federation of the Blind and Partially Sighted (DBSV). Under the motto “I see the way you don’t see” various events inform about medical therapy options, aids and supplies such as visual aids, self-help groups, barrier-free work on the computer, rehabilitation of visual disorders and barrier-free design of the environment.

EarlySight SA develops an innovative new device that enables doctors to observe tissue degenerations in an early stage of the process and thereby potentially diagnose patients with eye diseases a lot earlier than before. This idea deservedly won them the EIT Health Headstart Award 2019. We talked to EarlySight’s Founder and CEO, Timothé Laforest, about the new device and how it can help in the treatment of eye diseases.


1. The National Day of the Visually Impaired is an annual campaign that raises awareness of the needs of people with vision impairment as well as about medical therapy and solutions. In which way does your start-up address the needs of visually impaired people?
Currently, patients suffering from a retinal disease are facing several problems in the healthcare system. First, the instruments the doctors use to take picture of the retina are not precise enough to make an efficient diagnosis. The eye examination is long because the doctors are using several devices to perform a proper diagnosis based on their subjective experience. The last technological revolution happened 20 years ago with the Optical Coherence Tomography, which is now used as the gold standard. But since then, only incremental hardware improvement has been made and doctors are struggling with inaccurate images.
One of the consequences of this unprecise imaging of the retina is the lack of treatments for retina conditions, simply because researchers cannot demonstrate the efficiency of new drugs. Hence, patients sometimes do not have a treatment to be proposed, even for the most prevalent retina diseases.


2. EarlySight’s solution enables doctors to visualize the Retina’s tissue on a very detailed level. Can you tell us more about the device and how it works?
Our device combines a non-conventional lateral illumination of the eye and optical components, previously used in astronomy to correct the perturbations of the atmosphere. We are using those components to correct for the imperfections of the eye lens and obtain a much more detailed image, up to the single cell level.
Our technology could be compared to a biopsy, because we see the cellular structure, but it is completely non-invasive, and the exam takes only a few seconds.


3. What exactly becomes visible with the new technique?

With our technique, we can see the anatomy of the retina and the degenerative process at the cell level. Our unique approach allows to image with high contrast and detail the cells playing a key role in the visual cycle and in the most prevalent retina diseases such as AMD, Glacoma or Diabetic retinopathy.


4. This imaging technology potentially helps diagnose diseases of the eyes in a much earlier stage. Can you explain to us, how affected patients can profit from this?
We are currently in the phase of clinical demonstration. This phase will help the scientific community to understand the retina diseases at the cellular level and contribute to the development of new treatments. Our solution will soon be available on the market to be used for patients.


5. In May EarlySight has announced the first closing of CHF 2.3 million led by Verve Venture and including other investors like Nina Capital. How will these funds help the company enter the market?
These funds are meant to grow the team, accelerate the development and ultimately prepare the market entry. We plan to higher engineers, clinical operations expert and business development expert. We have a shared vision with our investors, to make the EarlySight product available for the doctors, so it can benefit to patients soon.


6. Finally: What personal message do you want to send to our readers for the National Day of the Visually Impaired?
Being a privileged observer of the ophthalmology development, I believe we are at the beginning of a new age with more treatment opportunities for patients, better follow up and improved detection tools.