The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that in the United States there are 4.3 million adults, or 18.5 percent of the total population, currently living with one or more diagnosable mental illnesses. In addition, approximately 20.1 million people, or 7.5 percent of the population, have an identifiable substance use disorder (alcohol or illicit drugs).
Right now, mental illness is a widespread epidemic in the U.S. Our incomplete knowledge about psychiatric disorders and the discrepancies between individual cases make it a battle that’s not easily won.
There are a wide variety of treatments available to help patients cope with their psychiatric disorders, including psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and mindfulness practices. However, each patient is different, and the efficacy of treatment varies. While some people with mental illness are able to find a therapeutic approach that significantly helps within 1–2 psychotherapy and/or medication trials, many are left without relief for far, far longer.
For patients whose symptoms make it difficult to seek out help in the first place, this can be extremely dispiriting. Furthermore, since many pharmaceutical treatments—the majority of antidepressants, for example—take about a month to significantly improve symptoms, many patients, especially those with substance use disorders, find it difficult to stay on a consistent clinical treatment plan.
Pear Therapeutics, a Boston-based digital prescription startup, seeks to solve this problem. From the time of its founding six years ago, Pear has developed four prescription therapeutic applications (reSET, reSET-O, thrive, and reCALL) to help combat substance use disorder, opioid use disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD in conjunction with psychotherapy and/or psychopharmacology.
ReSET and reSET-O, accessible through both smartphone apps and web interfaces, are designed to increase a patient’s compliance through modular therapeutic exercises, interactive mood-and-substance-use-tracking scales, and prescription medication reminders.
It also permits clinicians to directly access patient-recorded data, allowing them to get a better idea of each individual’s daily mood and lifestyle. This gives psychologists a much bigger picture compared to when the two only communicate in clinical environments. “With traditional therapeutic products, we don’t know in the real world whether or not it’s working, whereas with digital therapeutics we can see real time whether it’s working or not,” says Yuri Maricich, Pear’s chief medical officer and head of clinical development, “That can facilitate the clinician to take action where it’s needed, but it can also facilitate insight around how we can overall improve the healthcare system.”
When Pear Therapeutics was originally founded by Dr. Corey McCann in 2013, the concept of patient-clinician communication—as well as the intention to develop it into a prescribable therapeutic product—was at the heart of the startup’s inspiration. “Outside of the fact that the product is digital, the vision is that this is no different from any other small molecule or biologic, gene-editing, et cetera,” says Maricich. “And so that’s been our approach since day one.”
The decision to use digital apps rather than other treatment approaches resulted from the recognition that there were problems both in neurobehavioral research and in patient accessibility to effective care. Although a lot of data has been collected, it hasn’t been utilized as effectively as it could be, and most of it only focuses on patient behavior in clinical settings. Maricich notes that there’s also frequent fidelity issues in psychiatric treatment; still, studies have shown that a combination of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology is usually very effective. “Our vision was that if we could combine the pharmacology with the neurobehavioral intervention in the form of digital, there is an opportunity to really enhance care for patients across multiple therapeutic areas,” Maricich says.
So far, Pear has found great success in this approach. In September of 2017, reSET gained approval for prescription use—the first ever mobile application for substance use treatment to do so. Currently, Pear is waiting on FDA approval for reSET-O, which they plan to commercially launch along with reSET in late 2018. The company is also in the early development and clinical trial stage for thrive and reCALL, which plan to incorporate VR to best treat their targeted disorders.
Pear has many other future app plans to treat a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders, and they don’t plan to stop anytime soon. On March 1st, for instance, they officially formed a partnership with the pharma company Novartis in order to collaborate on thrive and a future product for treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.
“I think that patients deserve the same standard for a digital therapeutic than they would for any other therapeutic product—they’re no different,” says Maricich. “And that’s been our approach since day one.”
You can find out more about Pear Therapeutics and their products by visiting their website here: https://peartherapeutics.com/
Emily NcNeiece, a sophomore Publishing major at Emerson College, brings to MedTech a lifelong passion for the written word. As a current editor for Emerson’s Generic and Atlas magazines, and a reader for The Emerson Review, Emily loves engaging through text with the world around her. In her spare time, she enjoys cross-country running, short story writing, and watching just a bit too much TV.
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