Physical Therapy for the Eyes
Envision Solutions seeks to market a technology that helps stroke victims regain their sight.
What do you do after your aerospace manufacturing company sells for $3 billion?
Well, apparently, you start chasing other potentially blockbuster ventures.
Andrew Maskery, the former chief financial officer of Firth Rixson, checked off a few of his “lifetime goals” following Alcoa’s acquisition of the company, including bicycling to raise $10,000 for charity. But he was itching to put his experience in accounting and finance to work helping others.
“If I want to impact change in a positive way and have a good return on investment, I just thought I could do more,” he says.
Then he learned about Envision Solutions. The company had been founded by Jonathan Sacks in 2010 in order to commercialize a first-of-its-kind vision therapy device created by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). Envision held the patent but had not yet financed the clinical trials necessary to gain FDA approval for human use.
Maskery became CEO in November 2016 and in the following year invested $200,000 to help financially kickstart those needed trials.
The device, dubbed EnVision, is a Vision Restoration Therapy (VRT) system developed by Krystel Huxlin, director of research at URMC’s Flaum Eye Institute.
The therapy treats a kind of vision loss related to the visual cortex—the area of the brain that shares visual images to other parts of the brain. When the visual cortex is damaged, the brain can’t interpret what the eye is seeing, causing loss of sight in one-quarter to one-half of an individual’s normal field of view.
About 500,000 U.S. stroke victims suffer from this complication each year, according to URMC researchers. Stroke patients who were partially blind regained “large swaths of rudimentary sight after undergoing visual training,” Huxlin reported in a study published in 2017 in the journal Neurology.
The VRT software flashes tiny circles of striped patterns or moving dots in the field of view where a patient cannot see. Patients report the orientation of the stripes or the direction in which the dots were moving as they flash on the screen.
Those tasks stimulate the brain to process images and rewire the vision processing, according to Envision. With the home-based treatment, users can download the software and then use a chin rest for 30-minute treatments two times a day.
Although early results appear promising, a larger, FDA-regulated clinical trial and the agency’s approval are necessary before the EnVision device can go mainstream. Study sites—URMC, University of Pennsylvania and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute—had enrolled about half of the patients necessary by late 2018. Envision (the company) holds the exclusive license for the use of the patent once the FDA signs off on the device and treatment protocol. The full trial is expected to cost about $300,000, Maskery says.
In 2018, Envision was one of two winners of VenturePitch SWFL, which is organized by Adrenaline Venture Fund and Tamiami Angel Fund. Envision received $25,000 from Naples-based Adrenaline, which has increased the amount to $100,000.
The company aims to have the results of the clinical trial by the third quarter of 2019 and will then seek FDA approval, he says. The treatment will be offered directly to customers, who may have been referred by stroke centers, family doctors, ophthalmologists or vision centers. The price of the six-month treatment was still to be determined.
If all goes well, Maskery says he expects to hire three to four people in the first year of marketing. As sales increase, the staff could grow to about 30 people.