Beyond concussions, researchers have recently discovered wider application of King-Devick as a test for a host of diseases, ranging from Alzheimer’s disease and ALS to Parkinson’s disease. Even Devick was surprised by these discoveries, which he did not sponsor himself. The company’s engine behind the test is Downers Grove-based King-Devick Technologies, which he leads as CEO. Al King moved out years ago, although he still retains a stake in the business.
While King-Devick seems slow to get started, Devick (pronounced Deevick) has turned away from several competing career paths.
A native of downstate Quincy, he graduated from the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago in the mid-1970s, but then only practiced for about 15 years before giving it up for real estate development. He built a medical building across from the Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and also built a golf course in suburban St. Charles. Before long, he immersed himself in high-tech investing, pouring money into Andrew (Fllp) Filipowski’s Platinum Technology and later churning out records with his Platinum Entertainment Group.
“I’ve always been a starter guy,” Devick, 70, says. “I’ve always liked the term ‘serial entrepreneur’, which describes who I am. I discovered that optometrist work was very laborious and that I could earn more money doing other things.
Devick doesn’t even own a patent on his own test, which is otherwise protected by trademarks. How it works? A sports team essentially pays the company $10 for a one-season membership for each of its players, who undergo baseline testing by reading a list of 120 numbers spaced out unpredictably on an iPad page at the start of a competition season.
If there is a suspicion of a concussion, a coach or trainer asks the player to read the same numbers on the sidelines of a game. “A typical baseline test takes 25-50 seconds to read,” says Devick. “If you have suffered a head injury, you are likely to read numbers more slowly and make mistakes. If you stray from your baseline, that is an indication that you should be taken out of play.”
Reading the numbers is actually an eye movement test. Normal eye movement helps you read faster. Patients with, for example, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease will also read more slowly as their disease progresses, researchers have found. The process is considered so foolproof that the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., took a stake in King-Devick and co-branded the test, which it hardly ever does.
Devick’s frustration is that no professional sports league has officially adopted the test as a concussion standard. Some college and professional football teams use it on the sidelines, as do some professional hockey teams. At $10 per year per athlete, the price seems reasonable.
Devick, which has more than 10 software researchers in Ireland working to update its test to run it remotely via online connections, raised $22m from investors and took on 200 shareholders in the last decade.
He ditched real estate and entertainment to focus solely on King-Devick. He was himself a high school football player, guard, and estimates he had 20 concussions in his career. He says he “saw cartoon pictures” after a blow to the head left him dizzy.
David W. Dodick, a professor emeritus at the Mayo Clinic who has studied the evolution of Devick’s test, believes King-Devick should eventually gain wider acceptance.
“It takes time for advanced technology to be universally adopted,” he says. “Science is a long and rigorous process. This test will eventually seep into the clinical community.