Atopic dermatitis, the inflammatory skin condition better known as eczema, is estimated to affect around 3% of adults and as many as 20% of children around the world—rates that have steadily ticked upwards since the 1970s, thanks to growing rates of allergens, pollution and other irritants across the increasingly urbanized globe.
Johnson & Johnson and SciBase aim to reverse those rates, with new technology in the works that could detect the condition in infants, before it has a chance to fully develop and while total prevention is still an option.
The duo announced their two-year team-up this week. Together, J&J and SciBase will build on the latter’s existing Nevisense Go system, a portable device that uses artificial intelligence and electrical impedance spectroscopy to analyze the skin for abnormalities without requiring an invasive biopsy. To date, the device has been cleared to help detect melanoma in the U.S., Europe and Australia.
The partnership with J&J will center around a study with sites at several hospitals in Switzerland, led by Caroline Roduit, M.D., Ph.D., a specialist in pediatric and adolescent patients and in allergies and clinical immunology, as principal investigator.
“We will develop an AI-based algorithm that will be used together with this product to help detect which children at an early age are likely to develop atopic dermatitis,” SciBase CEO Simon Grant said in a video about the collaboration.
The study will be home-based, he explained, reflecting the partners’ hopes that the resulting technology could ultimately be used in the comfort of a patient’s own home as well.
“We will travel out to the patients’ homes, and the measurements will be taken at an early age,” he said. “And based on that, we hope to develop a product that can be then used by clinicians and potentially even by patients themselves, by parents themselves.”
Grant noted in the video that the J&J collab marks a “milestone” for SciBase as its first industry partnership—though likely not the last, he added.
The overarching goal of the partnership is to pave the way for preventive therapies to reach children at risk of developing eczema before it appears—therefore precluding a lifelong struggle with recurring patches of itchy, irritated skin.
And preventing atopic dermatitis can have even further-reaching effects, since “allergic diseases have a natural progression with atopic dermatitis being the first to manifest, often already in infancy, followed by other allergic diseases, such as food allergy and allergic asthma,” Roduit, the principal investigator, said in the announcement.
“We call this the ‘atopic train’ or the ‘allergic train,’” Grant explained in the video. “So, by preventing children from getting atopic dermatitis in the beginning, we believe that we can prevent them from getting onto this lifetime of diseases that often occurs.”