Winterlight Labs has announced a collaboration with Alzheimer Center Amsterdam of Amsterdam UMC. The work will center on decentralizing assessments of patient cognition and function in the study of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
The effort (funded by the Dutch Ministry of Health) will involve Alzheimer Center Amsterdam’s work to develop a remote measurement tool, which will integrate Winterlight’s digital speech assessment in order to capture subtle changes in cognitive health. The collaborators hope to create a validated, quick, and frequent method of monitoring early-stage Alzheimer’s patients, and to provide detailed measurements of the impact that preventative treatments have on these patients.
Outsourcing-Pharma connected with Jessica Robin, director of clinical research at Winterlight Labs to learn more about the research, and its potential impact on Alzheimer’s patients.
OSP: Could you please share the ‘elevator presentation’ description of Winterlight Labs?
JR: Winterlight Labs is a health technology company developing digital speech-based biomarkers for monitoring cognitive and mental health. In the future, we believe that every therapeutic will be integrated with digital biomarkers to help measure and improve their efficacy.
Speech provides a rich source of information about cognitive and mental health, but there is a need for tools to objectively and automatically measure speech patterns. In contrast to other companies in this space, Winterlight's platform measures both the acoustic (sound) and linguistic (content) properties of speech, providing insight into multiple domains including motor function, cognition, and language.
Winterlight's rigorous research and validation track record sets us apart from our competitors—we are industry leaders in speech research in Alzheimer's disease. Winterlight's platform has also been translated to several other languages, including English and Dutch, but also French, Spanish, German, and several others.
OSP: Please share your perspective on progress (or lack thereof) in the pursuit of Alzheimer’s treatments—what if any have been the bright spots, and what have been some of the challenges?
JR: After decades of failures in developing treatments for Alzheimer's disease, we are now in an exciting time with several potential new treatments on the horizon. A challenge is that the tools to measure improvement have not progressed much - we are still using intensive, clinician-administered, pencil and paper tests that have been around for decades. There are many limitations to these, including how often they can be administered, the burden on patients, and their sensitivity to detecting change.
The advancements in the development of novel digital measures are well-timed to match the progress in drug development and provide better ways to detect successful treatments with less burden on patients.
OSP: Can you share any detail about your work in vocal biomarker analysis leading up to this collaboration?
JR: Winterlight Labs has been researching vocal biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease for over five years, leading to several peer-reviewed publications. We have previously developed classification models to detect the presence of disease and lately have been working on developing measures to measure progression and improvement over time.
We recently showed how speech measures relate to Alzheimer's pathology as measured by tau PET scans, as part of another study with Genentech. Outside of our work in Alzheimer's disease, we have also studied speech changes relating to frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson's disease, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
OSP: Please talk about some of the reasons why a decentralized study format is beneficial (or perhaps essential) in collecting this type of data.
JR: Short, frequent assessments can be collected remotely, no longer requiring a participant or patient to travel to a clinic for testing. This less burdensome testing will allow more diverse populations to participate in clinical research and eventually, receive access to care.
In addition, more frequent assessments will allow us to collect a more accurate picture of a participant's day-to-day function, rather than a snapshot in time.
OSP: How did you come to work with the Alzheimer Center of Amsterdam?
JR: The Alzheimer Centre Amsterdam includes leading researchers who have done pivotal work validating measures for Alzheimer's disease research. We had been in contact with them through mutual colleagues and were enthusiastic to work together to validate our technology in Dutch-speaking populations.
OSP: Do you and your partner organization have any specific goals or timelines you can tell us about?
JR: The goal of the project is to develop and validate a toolbox for remote assessment in preclinical Alzheimer's disease. This is a multi-stage project that will span several years.
The first phase, which is already ongoing, is to collect high-frequency speech assessments from healthy volunteers to see what aspects of speech are most reliable across repeated testing.