TORONTO, July 9, 2019
Winterlight Labs Inc, a company that develops speech-based digital biomarkers for neuropsychiatric disorders, today announced it is developing vocal biomarkers for monitoring disease progression in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) patients in collaboration with Alector, a biotechnology company developing therapeutics for neurodegeneration.
Central nervous system (CNS) disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and depression are associated with changes in speech - both in the sound and content. Objectively measuring and analyzing speech changes using machine learning and computational linguistics is a novel approach to measuring disease severity and could be a more sensitive method for tracking disease progression. This approach could help physicians and pharmaceutical companies detect treatment efficacy more quickly and with a higher degree of precision compared to current pen-and-paper gold-standard assessments. FTD is a rare and heterogenous group of CNS disorders that result in progressive impairments in personality, behaviour and language.
Research has increasingly focused on developing treatments for AD in its earliest phases, when pathological changes have started to occur in the brain, but cognitive decline is not yet evident. It is this period of time at which therapeutic intervention has the greatest chance of providing a meaningful benefit to the patient. To date, this pre-symptomatic period cannot be detected with traditional tests of cognitive function, and a key future goal is to identify AD patients prior to the emergence of symptoms, to allow treatment to be initiated when patients are still cognitively healthy.
Winterlight and Alector are deploying Winterlight's speech-based digital biomarker across two projects. The first is in an on-going year-long observational study in participants with FTD. In this study, participants are being assessed remotely by a caregiver using Winterlight's tablet-based assessment, eliminating the need to visit a clinic.
Preliminary data from the observational study indicates that participants with primary progressive aphasia, one of two variants of FTD, use simpler words and grammar and are less articulate than age-matched controls. The data from this study are intended to help develop FTD-specific digital biomarkers that may be used as an exploratory endpoint in Alector's upcoming Phase 2 clinical trial for AL001.
Winterlight Labs is commercializing a proprietary language-based diagnostic system that analyzes natural speech to detect and monitor dementia, Alzheimer’s, aphasia, and various other cognitive conditions. Winterlight's scalable platform uses short recorded speech samples to analyze hundreds of linguistic cues, and can detect dementia and other conditions with a high level of accuracy. This is a major improvement over current pencil-and-paper tests which are time-consuming, costly, and difficult to administer. The platform has applications in drug trials, long-term and primary care, and speech-language pathology.
Since its founding, Winterlight Labs has seen strong interest from pharmaceutical companies and other potential partners who view the technology as a major improvement over current methods of detection or screening. The company has gained support from the pan-Canadian AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE), the Ontario Brain Institute, Ontario Centres of Excellence, and the University of Toronto Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. For more information, visit www.winterlightlabs.com.
Liam Kaufman, CEO
liam [at] winterlightlabs.com