Strengthening vision by using the smartphone - digital therapy for progressive myopia

Ronja Schrimpf

Startup Stories

Children and young people in particular are spending more and more time using smartphones or reading. This also has significant consequences for the eyes: While in Germany, after all, 25-35 percent of young adults are already affected by myopia, in the Asian region it is more than 80 percent. For the founders of Dopavision, Dr. Hamed Bahmani and Stefan Zundel, it was clear that solutions were needed that were fun to use, even at an early age. The idea of Dopavision was born.

In an interview with 5-HT, co-founder and CEO Stefan Zundel tells us how Dopavision wants to use a smartphone to strengthen eyes and combat myopia.

With the €12 million Series A funding round closed in spring 2021, Dopavision aims to grow further and validate its digital therapy for myopia in children through clinical trials.

The team behind Dopavision

Why digitalization is trending in the healthcare sector:

"Digital health has been very trendy not only since the Corona pandemic," explains Stefan Zundel, "There is a need to drive innovation in the health sector and there is plenty of catching up to do." 

When Dr. Hamed Bahmani and Stefan Zundel met as part of Flying Health - a Berlin-based company that sees itself as an ecosystem for digital health and digital drugs - Hamed formed the idea for Dopavision out of this ecosystem in 2017, which Stefan enthusiastically joined a short time later. Dopavision is focused on a very specific type of digitalization in the health sector: "We are developing a digital therapy for progressive myopia in children and adolescents. This digital therapy - we call it MyopiaX® internally - is performed using an app for the smartphone."

Why digitization is important in therapies for progressive myopia:

More and more people are wearing glasses - a lot of them because of myopia. Especially in recent years, progressive myopia has become a problem, because even at a young age, children spend a lot of time reading and in front of screens. "In Asia, in highly industrialized countries, more than 80 percent of all young adults are nearsighted. These are very high prevalences. In Germany, the figure is still 25 to 35 percent. According to the latest data from China, myopia rates have risen even further in the pandemic among children. High myopia can have serious long-term effects: For example, it increases the risk of later sequelae such as retinal detachment or myopic macular degeneration.”

“Stopping progression in children and adolescents is the most promising treatment approach for myopia being used right now. This improves quality of life and reduces the risk of later sequelae, and that's what we hope our therapy will do." 

What advantages MyopiaX® offers: 

"We are developing an app that is applied by means of a smartphone and can be combined with a game or other content such as educational content. During its use by the patient, a specially designed light stimulus is sent to stimulate specific nerve cells on the retina in the eye. This stimulation triggers an increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which in turn plays an important role in the proper growth of the eye." 

Why Asia is a particularly interesting market for dopavision - and why Germany should follow suit:

Not only does the majority of all young adults in the highly industrialized countries of Asia live with progressive myopia - compared to Germany, myopia also begins at a much younger age. But this is not the only reason why this region is at least as interesting for Dopavision as Germany: "In the Asian region, we have a much greater awareness of the problem of progressive myopia - and that one should intervene against it even in very young children. This is far from being the case in Germany. Of course, every nearsighted child in Germany gets glasses, but exploiting further treatment options, especially against the progression of nearsightedness, this idea is not yet widespread in Germany."

Still, Dopavision isn't committing to any market: "Right now, we're in the middle of development. This year, we are starting a clinical trial in various European countries with the aim of generating the necessary data for a corresponding CE certification. However, due to the high prevalences, Asia is a very interesting market for us, which we also want to enter as quickly as possible." Initial contacts have already been made, he said, but the situation surrounding COVID is not exactly making the exchange easy. 

Why experience pays off:

"We have grown from four people to now ten people as a team. It was exciting, but also challenging, to build a team during a pandemic, especially since you almost never see each other in person. The founders of Dopavision are Hamed - an experienced neuroscientist - and me, who come from a business background. We have worked over the last few years to strengthen the team with colleagues in Tech Development, Science and Clinical Studies. Currently, we are still looking for reinforcement, especially in Digital Product Management, i.e. the further development of our app - if you come from this field and are passionate about Digital Health, you should definitely get in touch with us.

"We have a great and motivated team with a lot of experience that is fun to work with every day. In clinical development, this is also necessary, as the development and clinical validation of medical devices is of course regulated and thus somewhat complex - that's where it pays to have the appropriate experience on the team."

Why Dopavision wants to grow with 5-HT:

To share more, Dopavision is also part of 5-HT's network. "From 5-HT we hope to get contacts, exchange and mentoring sessions. The networking opportunities organized with health insurance companies, for example, are also particularly interesting."

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