Patrick Sauvageau: Medical Technology Company Developing a Breakthrough Platform That Leverages Photonics and Artificial Intelligence to Measure Biomarkers in the Eye

Launched in 2017, Zilia is a medical technology company developing a breakthrough platform that leverages photonics and artificial intelligence to measure biomarkers in the eye, with an initial focus on ocular oximetry.

Zilia’s first product, Zilia Ocular, is the first retinal camera to assess oxygen saturation, a crucial biomarker in many diseases of the eye, including the three leading causes of avoidable blindness; glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration.

By generating new, accurate insights into the eye’s metabolic activity, Zilia aims to revolutionize the prevention, diagnosis, and management of ocular diseases worldwide.

Tell us about yourself?

I have a passion for technology, for building teams and dynamic cultures in organizations.

I co-founded Zilia and have been working full-time on this project for the past 4 years.

I graduated in optometry from the University of Montreal in 2010 and then completed a master’s degree in vision science.

Early on, I realized that my academic project, coupled with a lot of extra work, capital, and intellectual energy, could become an important clinical tool with significant impact.

Along with my brother Dominic, who has a PhD in chemical engineering, we founded Zilia. The innovation we wanted to put forward was really at the crossroads of our two areas of expertise.

We recognized a real need in the industry for early ocular disease detection, and we started working on the concept and business model.

That got us to 2017, when things really kicked off. We started building a strong multidisciplinary team with expertise in diverse fields ranging from biophotonics, software, AI, product development, regulatory affairs, and business development.

And now we’re getting to the commercialization of our first product.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

To take more time off. It’s good sometimes to take a little time to recharge, become inspired, and get new ideas.

What problem does your business solve?

The population is aging rapidly, and consequently, ocular diseases are on the rise. The prevalence of the three main causes of avoidable blindness, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration, is expected to increase by 81%, 63%, and 89%, respectively, by 2031.

In fact, an estimated 50% of all Americans will suffer from an ocular disease at some point in their lifetime. Unfortunately, vision loss or even blindness will affect many of them because current diagnostic tools assess existing damage to the eye, which means it is rather late in the disease process.

Vision loss carries a heavy burden on society, with associated annual costs of +$140 billion in the US and +$3 trillion worldwide. Early assessment of biomarkers linked to ocular diseases is a clear unmet clinical need.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

It is estimated that 90% of vision loss is preventable. However, current clinical tools used in eyecare focus on identifying structural damage to retinal tissues, and diagnoses are therefore made quite late in the disease process.

It has been largely documented that dysregulation of metabolic function in the eye often precedes structural damage, and this is why the non-invasive assessment of the metabolic activity in the tissues of the eye will be a game-changer.

We think that the best way to do this is by measuring the oxygen saturation, an approach commonly referred to as ocular oximetry.

Ocular oximetry is a crucial biomarker in many ocular diseases. By identifying and quantifying the metabolic processes associated with ocular diseases, Zilia’s technology will significantly change our approach to preventing, screening, and treating ocular conditions worldwide.

What is your magic sauce?

We have revolutionary technology and a mission-driven team. I truly believe we can have a huge impact on people’s lives, starting by protecting their vision.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Our first goal is to make ocular oximetry a goal standard in eye care.

Regarding our platform technology, the possibilities seem endless. So, in the future, we aim to expand our portfolio of biomarkers and applications by using the eye as a window into a patient’s health.

The eye is the only place in the body where we can directly assess blood vessels, and it is a direct extension of the brain.

So by assessing biomarkers present in the eye, we see applications in ophthalmology, neurology, cardiology, cancers, and so on.

By using the exact same technology, our team envisions a future where a simple, non-invasive eye scan could provide a range of information that would benefit your ocular and global health.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Well, launching a medtech company developing a breakthrough technology is definitely not an easy task. There are challenges everywhere you look.

I’d say that developing the technology from the ground up was in itself a great achievement that we are really proud of.

There were a lot of challenges – at all levels – but we were able to overcome them.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Our technology definitely caught the attention of the eye care community.

We feel extremely privileged to count some of the most prestigious research institutions among our first customers.

It’s a tremendous opportunity for our team to be able to help them acquire new insight about the eye in health and disease and contribute to making discoveries that will impact the clinical management of ocular diseases.

Our next big milestone is to get FDA clearance for our first product, the Zilia Ocular, which will then be launched in the eye care market. We aim to make Zilia Ocular a gold standard in eye care around the world.

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