Business News

Toku Eyes poised for US breakthrough after big industry names back $13m raise

Toku Eyes poised for US breakthrough after big industry names back $13m raise 768 512 Toku Eyes

Toku Eyes founder Dr Ehsan Vaghefi says his company’s AI software can analyse eye images faster than a human clinician and pick up things they might miss. 

Auckland-based Toku Eyes seems poised to make it big in North America following a US$8 million ($13m) Series A raise involving two of the biggest players in the US optometry market.

Toku Eyes makes AI-powered software that analyses scans of the back of your eye. Because your eye is transparent, it’s one of the easiest ways to get a picture of your veins – and changing colour or shape that indicates a heightened risk of type 2 diabetes, a stroke or cardiovascular problems.

The idea is to not just scan for diabetes-related preventable blindness, but give you a picture of your overall health.

Toku founder Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi says a cardiovascular checkup would ordinarily entail a trip to your GP, then a referral to a specialist as you navigate an often jammed health system. He sees Toku Eyes’ platform being available in every optometrist in every mall, making it faster, cheaper and easier to get a snapshot of your cardiovascular health.

The funding round was led by Nasdaq-listed National Vision (market cap: $1.6 billion), the second biggest optical retailer in the US, and Japan’s Topcon Healthcare – a Japanese firm that’s one of the world’s larger makers of eye examination instruments….

Read the full article here…

By: Chris Keall

Toku Inc. Series A Preferred Investment Round Led by National Vision, Inc. and Topcon Healthcare

Toku Inc. Series A Preferred Investment Round Led by National Vision, Inc. and Topcon Healthcare 768 512 Toku Eyes

To commercialize Toku’s artificial intelligence platform that analyzes retinal images to detect cardiovascular disease and other potential health risks

DULUTH, Ga.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Toku Inc., a leader in applying AI-powered diagnostic and screening tools to retinal imaging, announced today the closing of its $8 million Series A Preferred financing round. The financing was co-led by National Vision, Inc. (NASDAQ: EYE), one of the largest optical retailers in the United States, and Topcon Healthcare, a leading provider of medical devices and software solutions for the global eye care community.

“We are proud to gain the support of two companies that play essential roles in vision care and optical technologies worldwide”

The investment round will help Toku accelerate the development of technologies that use artificial intelligence to analyze retinal images for biometric markers linked to overall health and risk of cardiovascular events, stroke, and diabetes. To maximize market access, Toku applies its technology to leading retinal cameras.

“We are proud to gain the support of two companies that play essential roles in vision care and optical technologies worldwide,” said Toku co-founder and CEO Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi. “Over 80% of cardiac events and diabetes related blindness could be prevented by identifying risk and applying targeted interventions. We are building a future in which more people have affordable access to this critical health data — all from analyzing a retinal image.”

“Through AI-powered technology, Toku has found a way to identify potentially life-saving information quickly, accurately, and unobtrusively during a routine eye exam. We’re investing to help make that technology available to everyone who relies on us to help them see better, to live better, while also bridging the gap between eyecare providers and primary care,” said Priti Patel, O.D., National Vision’s Senior Vice President of Healthcare Strategy and Development. “This is an opportunity to help shape AI technologies that will prioritize better outcomes for patients and deepen the quality of care we’re able to provide.”

“Topcon is supporting technology for early detection of diseases of and through the eye,” said Akifumi Baba, President of Topcon Medical Systems. “Toku retinal image analysis technology will do just that by giving people access to potentially life-saving health insights while overcoming traditional access and affordability barriers that too often accompany new healthcare tools. We are excited to provide our data science expertise to Toku Inc. and to welcome them as our first Entrepreneur in Residence.”

About Toku Inc.
Toku Inc. is a cutting-edge technology company that specializes in developing non-invasive, AI-powered diagnostic and screening tools using retinal imaging to measure cardiovascular and other health risk factors. The company’s flagship product, the BioAge Test, uses advanced imaging techniques to analyze various biometric markers in the body to accurately measure an individual’s biological age. The test is highly accurate and can provide a detailed report on an individual’s overall health and potential health risks, including cardiovascular disease and stroke. Toku is committed to making its technology widely accessible, and the BioAge Test will soon be available through its major partnerships across the world.

The company’s technology is built on the latest research in artificial intelligence, and its team of experts includes leading scientists and medical professionals.

About National Vision Holdings, Inc.
National Vision Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: EYE) is the second largest optical retail company (by sales) in the United States with over 1,300 stores in 44 states and Puerto Rico. With a mission of helping people by making quality eye care and eyewear more affordable and accessible, the company operates five retail brands: America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, Eyeglass World, Vision Centers inside select Walmart stores, and Vista Opticals inside select Fred Meyer stores and on select military bases, and several e-commerce websites, offering a variety of products and services for customers’ eye care needs. For more information, please visit

About Topcon Healthcare
Topcon Medical Systems is a US subsidiary of Topcon Healthcare, which is part of Topcon Corporation (TSE 7732). Topcon Healthcare sees eye health differently. Our vision is to empower providers with smart and efficient technologies for enhanced patient care. Keeping pace with the ever-changing landscape of the healthcare industry, we offer the latest integrated solutions including advanced multi-modal imaging, vendor-inclusive data management, safe distancing, and ground- breaking remote diagnostic technology.

Topcon Healthcare is investing in startup companies focused on healthcare innovation with emphasis on digital health and shared care. The Entrepreneur in Residence program allows startups with aligned technology to reside in Topcon Healthcare to help achieve their strategic and business goals.

A truly global business, Topcon is focused on developing solutions to solve societal challenges in the mega-domains of healthcare, agriculture, and infrastructure. In healthcare, these challenges include increasing eye disease, rising medical costs, access to healthcare and physician shortages. By investing in value-driven innovations, Topcon works to help people to enjoy good health and a high quality of life.

Ehsan Vaghefi
+64 21 102 7705 (whatsapp)

Article originally on

42PLUS1 US Satellite Award

42PLUS1 US Satellite Award 768 512 Toku Eyes

Happy to announce the winner of the 42PLUS1 US Satellite Award! Congratulations Toku Eyes! 🚀🚀🚀

What a great innovation you shared at the DxPx Conference stage about the artificial intelligence (AI) engine THEIA of Toku Eyes and how it has grown since its inception in 2018 seeking to address cardiovascular & ocular disease manifest in the fundus.

Thank you for sharing your mission with everyone – to eliminate preventable health & vision deterioration, & have no relevant disease missed during consultation.

We are glad to have you as the wildcard to the 42PLUS1 Grand Finale happening at the DxPx EU on November 16th in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Visit to discover more about their technology and vision.

To learn more about 42PLUS1, visit our website at #diagnostics #digitalhealth #lifescience #precisionmedicine #42plus1

Kiwi AI tool launches in India

Kiwi AI tool launches in India 768 512 Toku Eyes

An Artificial Intelligence retinal screening tool, developed in New Zealand, is being used in 20 eye clinics in India and is about to launch in the United States.

THEIA has been created by Toku Eyes and provides diabetic screening to detect signs of eye disease. Clinical trials were held at Counties Manukau DHB in its central and satellite units, as well as a private optometrist in Palmerston North.

Co-founder Ehsan Vaghefi says the company has been working hard over the past year to convert the AI from a research tool into a medical product and it is now registered in India and the United States as such.

The medical product includes the development of a special camera to take the necessary images, clinical audit functionality and a platform to capture patient information and present the results to clinicians.

The new technology is now being used in the largest eye hospital chain in the world, Aravind in India, which sees around four million patients a year and performs around 500,000 eye surgeries.

“In a system of that scale, a tiny bit of technological advance introduces a lot of efficiencies,” explains Vaghefi.

He adds that the economies of scale of providing a medical Device-as-a-Service on the cloud with a large population are huge. While New Zealand does not have that scale, it benefits from the reduction in labour costs from not having a specialist view all screening images.

He says the tool could expand existing screening capacity by 50 percent and reduce labour costs by nearly a third, allowing more patients to access these services, including those in under-served areas.

Toky Eyes is also partnering with some US companies that provide screening stations, essentially providing the “brain behind the process”, Vaghefi says.

By the end of this year, THEIA is going to be operating in around 100 locations across a couple of states, rising to around 500 locations by the end of 2023.


Article originally published on

By: editor Rebecca McBeth

Advice from a clear-sighted entrepreneur

Advice from a clear-sighted entrepreneur 1024 683 Toku Eyes

Ehsan Vaghefi has been a guide all his life. After all, when other children his age were being helped across the street by their parents, he was helping his blind father across roads.

Vaghefi is now a senior lecturer in the University of Auckland’s School of Optometry and Vision Science as well as co-founder and CEO of the UniServices-backed startup Toku Eyes, a social enterprise that recently raised $3.6 million to bring its retina-scanning AI software to market. That means he’s on the cusp of achieving his life’s goal: helping prevent blindness on a large scale.

Vaghefi knows he’s just starting to see success as an entrepreneur. However, he’s learned a lot and is keen to help others who might be a step or two behind in commercialising their research.

The Toku Eyes back story

Vaghefi’s father was just a four-year-old boy in Iran when he lost his vision to congenital glaucoma. Had the disease been diagnosed and treated early, his vision could have been saved.

“All my academic and professional life has been driven by that story,” says Vaghefi.

After a master’s degree in biomedical engineering at the University of New South Wales, Vaghefi began doctoral studies at the University of Auckland to research eye imaging. He stayed on after his PhD to teach and continue his research. His work resulted in 45 peer-reviewed papers and three patents. Still, he wasn’t satisfied.

“I was contributing to vision science but I wasn’t actually making an impact on society,” says Vaghefi.

Then, in 2018, Vaghefi met David Squirrell, an honorary University of Auckland academic and lead ophthalmologist for the national Diabetic Eye Screening Program.

“In a friendly conversation, he mentioned there were too many patients in his clinics for the number of staff,” says Vaghefi. “It was one of those serendipitous moments because I realised that with his clinical experience and my knowledge about artificial intelligence, we could do something about it.”

That’s how Toku Eyes, which means “My Eyes” in a mix of Te Reo Māori and English, was born.

Using AI to screen diabetic eyes

Most vision loss is treatable, but only if it’s caught early enough. One common cause is diabetic retinopathy, in which high blood sugar damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina.

In New Zealand, nearly 300,000 people live with diabetes. Only half of them are being screened yearly as they should be. The result is that, all too commonly, vision loss is caught only when patients are almost blind, says Vaghefi.

Currently, screening relies on bulky, expensive equipment, which means it’s largely confined to larger centres. Specially trained clinicians must also interpret the images one by one.

The system Vaghefi envisions involves simpler equipment sending images to a national, centralised AI system for immediate analysis. This would mean screening could be done in any shopping centre optometry shop or even through mobile clinics.

“AI excels at pattern recognition, so we’ve taught our software what a healthy retina looks like and what an unhealthy diabetic retina looks like,” says Vaghefi. “It can also grade the severity of disease. The information is sent back right away, so within seconds, the optometrist who took the image in Invercargill or wherever knows what to do with that patient.”

An expanding vision

Toku Eyes is currently trialling its technology in several locations in New Zealand. The next step? The world. The use of AI reduces time, cost and staffing pressures and increases access by reducing location barriers. These factors could be game-changers in low- to middle-income countries.

The company is now looking to move into Africa, the Pacific, and South and Southeast Asia, in part through partnership with KeraLink, a U.S.-based not-for-profit organisation dedicated to making treatment for corneal disease accessible to all.

“These aren’t markets we’re going into because we’re after profit; it’s something we want to do because we want to make a difference,” says Vaghefi.

Toku Eyes is also working with KeraLink on moving beyond the retina to develop AI tools that screen for cornea and lens diseases.

“The ultimate product will be a screening tool for all the major diseases of the eye, covering 97 to 98 percent of all causes of blindness,” says Vaghefi. “The tool has to be transportable, so it can be used in mobile clinics visiting rural areas, and it has to work with lower-quality eye cameras and in places where internet access may not be reliable. These are significant technical challenges, but we have solutions for most of them.”

Advice for researcher-entrepreneurs

Despite Vaghefi’s technical expertise, he had no background in business until he co-founded Toku Eyes three years ago. Now, to encourage other researchers to follow a similar path, he’s sharing some of the lessons he’s learned the hard way.

First, “don’t sit on your idea,” says Vaghefi. “You can be sure that somewhere, someone is thinking about the same things. Patent your idea and create a proof of concept as soon as possible.” UniServices helped in the patenting process when he initially had no idea how to go about it, he adds.

As an entrepreneur, be prepared to work hard and “do everything,” says Vaghefi. “You have to be the coder, the product tester, the person negotiating the deal.”

To grow, though, “you need the right team around you,” says Vaghefi. “Once you’ve got some seed funding, that’s the time to grow your team.”

Listen to quality advice from team members and outside sources. When he was raising initial seed funding, a Return on Science investment committee provided valuable insight on going abroad, says Vaghefi. However, when he returned for more money, the advice was tougher to swallow.

“They said, ‘You don’t need to raise money here anymore because you’re past this stage; you have to go outside.’ At the time, it hurt a lot, but it got me to play at a different level,” says Vaghefi.

Unlike the friendly environment at Return on Science, presenting to venture capitalists was “brutal” – but it taught Vaghefi his number-one lesson: to not give up.

“You’ll hear ‘no’ over and over. You’ll have to listen to people who doubt you, who throw everything at you to prove you’re wrong, but you have to believe in yourself and keep going.”

Another important lesson: apply for research grants.

“If you raise money through seed capital or venture capital, you have to give away part of your company. With research grants, you don’t,” says Vaghefi. “Use research grants to create a proof of concept, test it and redevelop it until you have something that works.”

When do you raise venture capital, don’t raise more than you need, because the more you raise, the more you dilute your ownership, says Vaghefi.

“I’ve seen founders lose motivation because they own too little of their company.”

A final lesson? “Stay true to your mission,” says Vaghefi. “I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs raise some money and act like that’s it; they’re successful. But really, it’s just the beginning of the work.”

For further advice, contact Ehsan Vaghefi through LinkedIn or via email at To learn more about how UniServices can help health researchers commercialise their work, contact Kent Lee at

Article originally published on Uni Services

A New Zealand startup using AI to detect eye disease raises $3.35 million

A New Zealand startup using AI to detect eye disease raises $3.35 million 1024 683 Toku Eyes

New Zealand startup Toku Eyes, which has built an artificial intelligence platform to improve early detection of eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and other diseases observable via the eye, has raised NZ$3.6 million (A$3.35m) in a seed round to commercialise its invention.

The company’s first external raise came from US, Asian and New Zealand ophthalmology and optometry industry experts and was led by Icehouse Ventures, joined by New Zealand VC Artemis Capital and Kera Link International, a social venture focused on delivering affordable corneal blindness treatment in the developing world.

Toku Eyes co-founder and CEO Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi’s eye imaging diagnostic device, THEIA, has the potential to expand existing screening capacity by around 50% and reduce labour costs by 30%.

Clinical trials completed last month at Middlemore Eye Hospital and private practices across New Zealand demonstrated the accuracy of the THEIA algorithm.

Toku Eyes Founder: Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi

Camera-agnostic, THEIA is designed to handle lower quality images, work with any number of images per eye, and automatically identifies images that belong to the same eye and the same patient. Using a medical practice’s existing camera, operated by a technician or allied health professional after simple training, THEIA saves the vast majority of time specialists currently spend scanning and writing reports for every patient, when just an estimated 5-10% actually need a referral.

Toku Eyes is also working with camera manufacturers to develop a cost effective, highly portable camera that can be operated by healthcare professionals.

Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi said early diagnosis and accurate prediction are key to the prevention of blindness.

“Toku Eyes’ AI means many more people can be cost-effectively screened, including those in more remote areas under-served by optometry or ophthalmology services,” he said.

“Just as importantly as increasing the volume of screening, improving the accuracy and granularity of disease detection using THEIA allows patients who do not require a referral to be prompted to make positive lifestyle changes.

The raise will be used to advance the commercialisation of THEIA and complete the validation of its diagnosis programs for health issues such as cataracts, macular degeneration, hypertension and even blood sugar leading to diabetes, via partnerships with US-based clinics.

Two New Zealand District Health Boards are already trialling THEIA, which is expected to be available to Australian optometrists and healthcare professionals later this year, following regulatory certifications.

Toku Eyes has received around NZ$4 million in grants to develop THEIA from the likes of New Zealand’s Health Research Council, MBIE, National Science Challenge and Callaghan Innovation.

Article originally on

A multi-center prospective evaluation of THEIA

A multi-center prospective evaluation of THEIA 1024 683 Toku Eyes

A multi-center prospective evaluation of THEIA to detect diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME) in the New Zealand screening program

Purpose: to assess the efficacy of THEIA, an artificial intelligence for screening diabetic retinopathy in a multi-center prospective study. To validate the potential application of THEIA as clinical decision making assistant in a national screening program.

Methods: 902 patients were recruited from either an urban large eye hospital, or a semi-rural optometrist led screening provider, as they were attending their appointment as part of New Zealand Diabetic Screening programme.

These clinics used a variety of retinal cameras and a range of operators. The de-identified images were then graded independently by three senior retinal specialists, and final results were aggregated using New Zealand grading scheme, which is then converted to referable\non-referable and Healthy\mild\more than mild\vision threatening categories. Results: compared to ground truth, THEIA achieved 100% sensitivity and [95.35%-97.44%] specificity, and negative predictive value of 100%. THEIA also did not miss any patients with more than mild or vision threatening disease. The level of agreement between the clinicians and the aggregated results was (k value: 0.9881, 0.9557, and 0.9175), and the level of agreement between THEIA and the aggregated labels was (k value: 0.9515).

Conclusion: Our multi-centre prospective trial showed that THEIA does not miss referable disease when screening for diabetic retinopathy and maculopathy. It also has a very high level of granularity in reporting the disease level. Since THEIA is being tested on a variety of cameras, operating in a range of clinics (rural\urban, ophthalmologist-led\optometrist-led), we believe that it will be a suitable addition to a public diabetic screening program.

Ehsan Vaghefi, Song Yang, Li Xie, David Han, David Squirrell

Download Paper from Cornell University here

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