Novai secures £500k Seed investment led by SFC Capital

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Novai closes £500k seed funding for transformational AI-led eye disease detection

Also appoints new Acting CEO and expands board

London 23 July 2020 – Novai, a biotechnology startup originating from University College London, has secured £500,000 in seed funding in a round led by SFC Capital. The funding will be used to further develop Novai’s AI-powered technology that enables standard medical imaging equipment to identify eye disease at a cellular level up to 18 months earlier than current gold-standard processes. Novai has also appointed Gordon Bethwaite as Acting CEO and added three new senior board members.

Novai was founded by Professor Francesca Cordeiro from UCL and Imperial College London. When applied to images taken using the DARC (Detection of Apoptosing Retinal Cell) technique developed by Professor Cordeiro, Novai’s AI algorithm is able to accurately predict progressive glaucomatous damage 18 months before current gold standard OCT retinal imaging technology.

Novai’s technology has been approved as an exploratory biomarker for use in studies of glaucoma – the leading cause of irreversible blindness globally – and AMD (age-related macular degeneration). The team is also researching its potential for application in neurodegenerative conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s , and Parkinson’s Disease.

Novai recently closed its first commercial agreement, a research collaboration with Santen USA, and is also actively responding to significant global commercial interest.

Speaking on the investment, Rohallah Ghasemi, Investment Manager at SFC Capital, commented: “Novai’s innovative combination of technology and biomedicine represents the future of preventative care, with the potential to make a massive difference for anyone who might suffer from degenerative diseases in the future. The founders have assembled an extraordinary team of experts and advisors, and we are pleased to be supporting them as they continue to prove the capabilities of the technology and grow the company. We’re excited to see what they achieve next.”

Following the closing of seed funding, Novai recently appointed Gordon Bethwaite as Acting CEO. Mr. Bethwaite has worked in eyecare for over 20 years, having held senior management roles in both global market-leading organisations and early commercialisation-stage startups. Speaking about his appointment, Mr. Bethwaite said: “Throughout my career, I’ve worked with gold-standard eyecare companies and products, and have seen first-hand the positive impact that groundbreaking technology can have on patients’ lives. DARC has the potential to become one of those technologies, and I’m excited to be part of this amazing team bringing it to market. Playing a role in the development of new treatments and standards of care for patients suffering with degenerative sight loss is what motivates us to success with DARC”.

Novai has also added Dr Karl Keegan, Rob Thornhill, and Dr Berwyn Clarke to its board, with Dr Clarke joining as Chairman. Dr Clarke has over 30 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries, and is a specialist in personalised medicine, companion diagnostics, and the development and commercialisation of novel diagnostics. Dr Keegan and Mr. Thornhill bring experience of business development and big pharma.

About Novai

Novai is a biotechnology start-up, commercialising DARC technology, an exploratory retinal biomarker for use in Age-related macular degeneration & glaucoma clinical studies. DARC combines an innovative patented biologic with a state-of-the-art AI algorithm and uses standard imaging equipment to identify cellular level disease activity. DARC has been developed by Professor M Francesca Cordeiro at University College London through Wellcome Trust funding and is now approved as an exploratory biomarker by the FDA & MHRA. Following further analysis of Phase II data, several other indications may follow, including Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Novai is headquartered in London. 

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About SFC Capital

SFC Capital is the most active seed-stage investor in the UK, and was ranked fifth globally by Pitchbook in both 2018 and 2019. Founded in 2012 by serial entrepreneur Stephen Page (DataEase, Sapphire), SFC Capital combines an angel syndicate with its own funds to provide investors with diversified exposure to SEIS- and EIS-qualifying businesses. Investors can back the high-potential startups directly or through a portfolio curated and managed by the SFC Capital team. Having backed more than 225 startups since its inception, notable companies in the SFC Capital portfolio include Cognism, Transcend Packaging.

Based in London but active across the UK, SFC Capital has a track record of backing high-growth businesses in parts of the UK where access to early-stage equity capital is often scarce, with notable investments including Vortex IOT (Swansea), Transcend Packaging (Caerphilly), Petalite (Birmingham), and Intupod (Belfast). In total, businesses backed by SFC Capital through its angel network and funds have created more than 500 jobs outside of London. In April 2020, SFC Capital received a £10 million commitment from British Business Investment through its Regional Angels Programme. As part of its regional expansion, SFC Capital is also opening a second office in Macclesfield to catalyse its regional investor base and increase deal flow across the country.

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Manoj Ranaweera

Manoj has founded, failed and successfully exited from a number of technology product companies as well as support organisations since 2004. Among them, Northern Tech Awards and were acquired by GP Bullhound and Accusoft, Inc respectively. Today, Manoj is building a trusted support network for technology companies. He is working with founding teams to help them accelerate including raising investment and M&A.

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