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Aegis Ventures and Northwell Holdings Launch Optain, an Advanced AI Company That Uses Photos of the Eye to Detect and Prevent Early Stage Disease

Today Ascertain, a revolutionary collaboration between Aegis Ventures and Northwell Holdings, announced a seed funding round to launch Optain, an artificial intelligence company that enables early identification and disease prevention through retinal imaging.

The eye can act as a window to an individual’s health, but for far too long, non-invasive diagnostics and screenings using the eye have not been available to healthcare providers. Traditional diagnostic methods are often expensive, hard-to-access, and slow; Optain utilizes emerging AI technology that analyzes information obtained from a simple retinal camera to screen for and diagnose multiple chronic and acute conditions, ranging from ophthalmological to cardiovascular or neurological – all in real-time.

With this $12 million investment, Optain is the first company launched by Ascertain, Aegis Ventures and Northwell Holdings’ collaboration to develop healthcare AI companies at scale. Ascertain was created in April 2022 to combine leading medical, technology, data and business resources in a company creation platform that addresses healthcare’s most challenging quality, equity, and cost problems.

“The healthcare industry has made a concerted effort in recent years to shift treatment from reactive sick-care to proactive preventive care, but many of the legacy screening and diagnostic technologies used by clinicians today are expensive and inaccessible,” said Jeff Dunkel, CEO of Optain. “Optain will accelerate that shift and make preventive care ubiquitous by placing smarter, faster, and more efficient diagnostic tools in the hands of clinicians everywhere.”

“The most immediate opportunity for impact is within ophthalmology,” Dunkel adds. Optain’s first goal is to expand access to screenings and diagnosis for preventable eye disease, closing critical health equity gaps, particularly in underserved communities where diagnostic and screening tools aren’t available.”

While brand new to the United States, Optain’s roots can be traced back to the Australian-founded company Eyetelligence, which launched in 2019. Eyetelligence is based on the inventions of Professor Mingguang He, a leading clinician-scientist at the University of Melbourne and Centre for Eye Research Australia. The company has developed a suite of clinically validated and regulatory-approved AI products commercialized in the Australian, New Zealand, European, Japanese and Middle Eastern markets. In addition, Eyetelligence’s products are being implemented in two of the largest retail eyecare chains in Australia.

“The three most common eye diseases – diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma – can be detected far earlier with algorithmic retinal image analysis. These three diseases, however, are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Prof. Mingguang He. “The eye is a window through which we can discern any disease that affects the microvascular system. This technology allows clinicians to act faster and prevent significant impacts on quality of life.”

The Ascertain team’s goal is to facilitate and accelerate the availability of Optain’s advanced capabilities here in the U.S., benefitting both providers and patients. Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider and private employer in New York State and one of the ten largest health systems in the U.S., will be Optain’s flagship commercial customer. Optain’s groundbreaking AI-enabled technology will help Northwell catalyze its mission to make healthcare more equitable and ensure more patients have access to high-quality preventive care.

“By harnessing the tremendous insight that can be gained through retinal scanning, and combining that with innovative AI, Optain’s technology represents enormous potential to improve the manner and timeliness in which we can diagnose and treat disease, said Richard Braunstein, MD, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Ophthalmology at Northwell Health. “We believe that leveraging Northwell’s clinical expertise, data assets and vast clinical footprint positions us well to refine and advance such groundbreaking solutions and improve the treatment and care of patients.”

This is the collaboration’s first investment in an emerging AI technology originally developed overseas. One of Ascertain’s goals is to expedite the pathway to regulatory approval for these innovative companies, supporting their launch and scale within the United States. By doing so, Ascertain raises awareness and accelerates the impact of solutions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Eyetelligence will continue to expand both in Australia and in other international markets. As the brand grows and scales, the Ascertain team is determined to foster innovation and improve patient care by investing in and cultivating solutions like those offered by Optain. They are eager to connect with other innovative founders, investors and partners in the healthcare AI space.

About Optain

Optain is transforming preventive health with industry-leading AI-enabled software and hardware products that noninvasively diagnose eye and systemic health conditions in real-time. Using the eye as a gateway to monitor whole-person health, Optain’s AI-enabled portable retinal camera empowers clinicians to screen for over 140 eye and systemic conditions in the early stages of development. The company’s approach is based on over a decade of research conducted by Professor Mingguang He, a leading researcher at the University of Melbourne and Centre for Eye Research in Australia. By placing powerful AI-enabled diagnostic tools in the hands of clinicians, Optain will reduce wasteful spending, close gaps in care, and make high-quality healthcare accessible to all. To learn more about Optain, visit our website

About Aegis Ventures

Aegis Ventures is a next-generation startup studio that partners with entrepreneurs and industry leaders to originate, launch, and scale transformative companies. Our platform brings together market-shaping ideas, permanent growth capital, and ambitious individuals driven to solve major societal problems. We aim to build companies with the capacity for vast impact, with an initial focus on artificial intelligence and digital health. Within these verticals, Aegis seeks to create companies that leverage technology to better optimize tradeoffs between quality, access, and cost, focusing on innovations that promote seamless continuity of care, patient empowerment, and better-informed clinical decision-making. To learn more about Aegis, visit our website aegisventures.com and follow us on LinkedIn.

About Northwell Holdings

Northwell Holdings (“Holdings”), a fully owned, for-profit subsidiary of Northwell Health, creates value for the health system by investing in early-stage companies, establishing commercial joint ventures, cultivating internally-developed ideas and bringing them to market, and advancing data collaborations that drive innovation in patient care, health diagnostics, and deep technology. We invest in companies that are aligned with Northwell’s mission, promote better health outcomes, improve patient experience, and increase efficiencies in care delivery and services. Through strategic collaborations, Holdings leverages the health system’s robust enterprise data assets to develop AI-enabled solutions that address healthcare inequities. We combine Northwell Health’s clinical and healthcare business expertise and entrepreneurial spirit to bring concepts to life. Northwell Health is New York’s largest healthcare system. To learn more, visit us here and follow us on LinkedIn

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