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HomeminewsEyetelligence Plans Global Expansion

Eyetelligence Plans Global Expansion

Eyetelligence – the Australian-based healthtech company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology and retinal imaging to screen for eye and systemic diseases – is under new leadership with the appointment of American-based Jeff Dunkel.

Mr Dunkel, who travelled to Australia as a young man to study business at University of Wollongong in New South Wales, has a wealth of experience in commercialising innovation.

“I cut my teeth on innovation from a young age,” he told mivision in an exclusive interview. “When I was pre-med in college, I started working with St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and got brought on for surgical exploration for Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. I just loved it, I loved the concept of, ‘How do we do things that other people haven’t seen before in order to change the outcome for the patient?’ That progressed. I did 16 years at Johnson and Johnson, and I wound up going to business school.”

Mr Dunkel chose to continue working on the medical side of business, becoming “heavily involved in policy”.

In this capacity he has worked with legislative members on new technologies, volunteered with federal agencies to promote innovation and its impact, advised at the White House under multiple administrations, and advised the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on rules and the implications of innovation in the community. With an ongoing desire to “give back”, he is currently on a committee for the Centre of Global Health Innovation.

Connected to the Land Down Under

When Professor Mingguang He, a leading clinician-scientist at the University of Melbourne and the Centre for Eye Research Australia, introduced him to Eyetelligence, Mr Dunkel said he jumped at the chance to be involved.

Acknowledging Australia’s strong, yet somewhat unrecognised reputation for medical innovation, he said “it feels good to be back, involved in this great country, and to be a part of something new and novel, that we’ll be able to roll out at a global level”.

Mr Dunkel said the exciting thing about Eyetelligence’s growth to date is that much of it has come from existing customers.

The AI platform is being used to support the detection of age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma by approximately 100 optometry and ophthalmology clinics in Australia (with George and Matilda and Bupa being the major users). In the United States, where Eyetelligence is branded Optain, it is ophthalmologists who are using Eyetelligence as the company works through regulatory requirements.

“What speaks to the quality of a team and of a product, is when a facility adopts it in one or two locations and then they go, ‘Oh gosh, we need this everywhere’. Then they start adding in other locations and other locations,” Mr Dunkel observed.

“There’s reputational risk associated with launching a new customer, and the best validator that you can have is when they continue to expand and add in their stores. That’s what we’re seeing, and that has nothing to do with my leadership. That has to do with the individuals developing the science, that has to do with the individuals that are representing the company in front of the customers. It is just very fortunate to see that we are meeting and exceeding expectations,” he said.

Batman’s Robin

In a world with increasing demand for healthcare that is unmatched by resources, Mr Dunkel said Eyetelligence was “a really good Robin to the doctor’s Batman”, supporting decision making on disease diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment plans.

Insisting that “there is no way we would ever have any ambition to replace clinicians”, he said, “every superhero out there needs reinforcement from time to time. When used appropriately, all this is doing, is reinforcing that clinical decision making to protect the patient and further inform the clinician”.

“It’s a heck of a benefit, because… there is no such thing as standardised practice across entire countries. There are some individuals that are the cream of the crop. There are other individuals that have seen 200 patients, and if you’re the 201st that week, you may not have their full attention.”

Having been trained across 200,000 images, he said Eyetelligence “helps to blanket and offer a degree of standardisation and protection…it’s a great support tool”.

Accelerating Growth

Backed by AU$18 million funding from Ascertain, a partnership between Northwell Health (New York’s largest healthcare provider) and Aegis Ventures (a start-up creation company), Mr Dunkel plans to accelerate Eyetelligence’s growth globally.

Already the company is investing in customer support and the product line, by adding new personnel with new degrees of expertise; and reinforcing and supporting more scientific growth.

Through partnerships with institutes like Monash University and Northwell Health, Eyetelligence is also expanding its database of images for the existing disease states it has proven capacity to analyse, while looking to build capacity to analyse rare eye diseases.

“Unfortunately, this is not the type of business where you are handed the crystal ball when you get your business card that says CEO,” Mr Dunkel said.

“What you’re handed, is a compass that says, ‘Go find new things that improve patient care. And it’s okay to make mistakes. Not every one of them will work, but you’ve got the most talented scientists in the world behind you, and they’re the ones that are going to figure this stuff out. So, empower them and allow that to be the direction that the company follows’.

“If I was an optometrist or ophthalmologist, what I would expect out of Eyetelligence and Optain, depending on the country that you’re in, what I would expect out of this organisation, is a continued and deliberate focus on advancement and on innovation.”