Digital therapeutics, a field of medicine that uses digital platforms to treat medical conditions, is quickly gaining popularity in the medical community.
Boston’s own Akili is a rising star on the digital therapeutics scene. Earlier this year they fundraised $30.5 million to support the development of software-based therapeutics for patients suffering from ADHD, higher functioning autism, Alzheimer’s, depression and traumatic brain injury.
The products, which look and feel like video games, are powered by Project:EVO, a software platform based on neuroscience discoveries out of UCSF. The games exercise sensory processing skills by requiring users to make complex decisions while simultaneously completing sophisticated fine motor tasks. One game, for example, requires the user to continuously navigate an alien avatar down a path, while adapting to second-by-second to changes in the gaming environment.
Games powered by Project:EVO aim to strengthen cognitive skills that are significantly weakened across a number of neurological disorders. The company’s CEO, Dr. Eddie Martucci, believes that the core set of algorithms behind Project:EVO can power a number of game-like products whose user interfaces can be tailored to the needs of patient populations suffering from a variety of disorders
“We are not a disease specific company, but we think our software can be relevant across disorders where executive function is a major problem,” he explained. “The products are powered by the same engine, but the user experience—like the content and visuals—are customized for each population.”
Martucci hopes that Akili’s digital therapy products will supplement, or in some cases substitute, the two main types of treatment available to these populations—pharmacology and behavioral therapy— both of which have substantial drawbacks. For pharmacology, safety and compliance are major issues, while cost and logistics make behavioral therapy unmanageable for many patients.
“Both drugs and behavioral therapy leave an opportunity for something that can engage a much broader set of patients in a very safe and still effective way at their homes,” said Martucci.
With that said, Akili is by no means anti-drug. Dr. Martucci’s background is in Pharmacology and Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry. “I still love biochemistry,” said Martucci. “I was just fascinated with the idea that there can be many other effective types of modalities, like software.”
Martucci fundamentally disagrees with the idea that software cannot be studied as rigorously biochemistry; Akili is currently in clinical trials to test the efficacy of products powered by Project:EVO for patients with ADHD, and plans for further clinical trials are underway. “We can apply the same level of quantitative analysis and rigor to studying and trying to prove the effects of software,” said Martucci.
The hope is that Akili’s first few products will hit the market in the next few years.
Abby Ballou is the managing editor of MedTech Boston. She has a B.A. and M.Phil in English literature from NYU and the CUNY Graduate Center, respectively. When she isn't writing and editing for MedTech Boston, Abby enjoys reading, rock climbing, watching classic movies and listening to opera.
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