On September 19th(GMT+8), InnoKOL had a fascinating conversation with Mr. Soufiane Ajana, PhD, the Founder & CEO at RetiNet, talking about his unique work experience and profound insights on the development of deeptech.
Jokia: How would you describe yourself in three words? What’s your motto?
Curious, objective-oriented, resilient.
My motto is: You make a living by what you get and you make a life by what you give.
Jokia: Can you please share more about your educational and professional background? And we’d love to hear what brought you to deeptech.
My background is in mathematics and statistics, and also hold a PhD in epidemiology.
PhD was about better understanding and preventing the onset of a blinding and incurable eye disease called age-related macular degeneration, AMD in short.
Therefore, I developed a machine learning algorithm to predict the risk of developing AMD.
I made this new technology available for the general public through a digital platform called Macutest( www.macutest.com).
What brought me to deeptech is the need to make this technology available for the general public.
Indeed, AMD is a hereditary disease that runs in my family which means that I'm prone to have when I will be older.
So, launching a deeptech startup was the best and most effective way to bring my solution to the masses.
Jokia: What is deep tech and how does it define our future?
For me, deeptech startups are startups that offer products or services based on disruptive innovations. We talk mainly about technologies that were developed in research labs during several years.
So, it takes a lot of time and investment for deeptech startups to access their markets. But very often when they succeed, they generate huge revenues.
I personally think that the science behind deeptech startups can help us with many challenges that we are facing today like global warming or equal access to healthcare or also healthy ageing.
What we need now, in France at least, is to educate and raise awareness about innovation in research to encourage researchers to file patents and innovate. Because, in my opinion, that's the only efficient way to speed up the process of bringing disruptive inventions to the people who need them the most!
Jokia: From your perspective, how the COVID-19 pandemic led to health care innovation?
I think that the COVID-19 made us rethink the way we can access to healthcare. For example, COVID-19 accelerated the digital shift in healthcare. So, we will see more telemedicine applications in the years to come. Because we realize today that we need to protect the most vulnerable people by helping them to have access to quality care from the comfort of their homes for example.
That why also, with RetiNet, we aim to bring our service to the elderly, who are the most likely to develop AMD, through our digital platform.
I also think that the rise of the metaverse will also accelerate that shift!
Jokia: How innovation in healthcare can improve patient care?
I think that we already started answering this question with the digital shift and the comfort that it can bring to the patients but also to the healthcare professionals.
More specifically, I do believe that AI will have a very important role in improving patient care.
For example, with RetiNet, we realized that 67 million people in the EU suffer from AMD among whom only 17 million are diagnosed!
Therefore, we decided to develop several AI based algorithms to help ophthalmologists and optometrists better diagnose the early stages of AMD takes to an automatic annotation of fundus images.
We also provide tools for ophthalmologists to better predict the risk of their patients to progress to the advanced (blinding) stages of AMD.
Patients will also have a personalized monitoring adapted to their real needs, based on a blood biomarker, to help them monitor their risk over time.
That being said, I think that AI, is a valuable technology that we could use to help, and not to replace, healthcare professionals provide personalized and tailored care to their patients.
Jokia: How dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is treated?
There are two forms for advanced AMD, geographic atrophy (dry AMD) and the neovascular form (wet AMD). There are no curative treatments for any advanced form.
However, for wet AMD, there are intravitreal injection of anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) that help slow the progression of the degeneration in the retina. Also, there are some clinical trials in phase 3 today, with promising results for geographic atrophy.
We also need to keep in mind, the scientific progress made today for the cell therapy, that I personally find a very promising approach to help patients recover from several diseases.
Jokia: How RetiNet is prepared to play a leading role as a deeptech startup?
We aspire to be the world leaders in AMD prevention by bringing our service to all the patients who need it. To do so, we can count on the support of our scientific board composed of many KOLs in ophthalmology. Also, the science behind our technology is solid, it was published in ophthalmology, the leading journal in its field. Finally, we have a strong IP thanks to our patents, to reassure investors and encourage them to help us bring our innovative service to the market.
Last but not least, preventing people from developing AMD is a promise that I made to many members of my family who suffer from this disease. And I am willing to keep that promise!