Akili Interactive Labs raises $30.5M for cognitive video game intervention

By Aditi Pai
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Boston, Massachusetts-based Akili Interactive Labs, which has developed a video game intervention for cognitive conditions, raised $30.5 million in a round led by PureTech Health with participation from Jazz Venture Partners and Canepa Advanced Healthcare Fund. 

This brings the company’s total equity funding to at least $39 million. The company has also received between $5 and $6 million in government grants and partnership funding. 

Akili’s offering, a video game called Project: Evo, is based on research from UCSF. The game is designed to treat cognitive issues. To play it, a user navigates an alien avatar, chosen specifically because it is culture-neutral but also relatable, down a course by tilting a mobile device back and forth. While navigating the alien, the user must also respond to targets by tapping the screen. The app keeps track of movements and can therefore monitor the user’s behavior and quickly adapt to the player.

“What our product does is it makes what we call the filter of the brain, how you process and prioritize [information], do a really hard thing, which is to multitask,” Akili Interactive Labs CEO and Cofounder Eddie Martucci told MobiHealthNews. “It configures these two different inputs from the user which is this fine motor task and then reacting to stuff on the screen. It configures them in such a way that they are always overlapping and pushing your bounds on both of those and you cannot get away from that. You can’t do just one of them and succeed. So essentially it strengthens that pathway in the brain directly. We are not teaching you to remember a face, we are not teaching you to learn words. We are essentially teaching your brain to properly prioritize sensory input.”

Akili will use the funds from the round to support and expand the company’s clinical programs as well as growing the commercial unit of the company. At the end of last year, Akili met with the FDA to discuss the company’s path to clearing the product.

“What they confirmed for us is that if we could do one more study in ADHD, a larger randomized control study — that we are already kicking off right now — they said that would suffice to bring it to FDA approval and market,” Martucci said.

The study Martucci mentioned will last at least a year. He added that based on the discussion, the company now predicts that it could receive its FDA clearance and bring the product to market by the end of 2017.

Akili has tested its product with a number of cognitive conditions, including ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s, and depression. But the specific clearance that Akili is working on first is for an ADHD version of the product. After receiving that clearance, according to Martucci, the company will likely try to get clearance for the autism version, followed by depression and then Alzheimer’s.

Although Project: Evo is in a game format, the offering is a medical device. As a result, Martucci explained that when Akili begins the commercialization process, he doesn’t feel restricted to just putting it in an app store. While it could go in an app store, it could also be loaded on a dedicated device, or distributed in another way. Over the next year or two, Martucci said the company is learning and testing different distribution scenarios. 

“[We want to] try to understand the exact distribution path, the exact logistics and mechanics of getting this from a doctor-patient conversation, where a patient says, ‘I have this disorder, is there something that is not drugs that I can use?’ and a doctor will now have the option to say ‘Yes, now there is’ — the whole mechanic to get from there to the patient using it at home. We are doing a lot of scenario and distribution tests on that so that’ll be a big part of this funding. Figuring out all those mechanics.”

He does anticipate that this will be something the doctor prescribes to the patient.

In October 2015, a poster presentation at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s 62nd annual meeting showed that Project: EVO may be an effective method for improving attention and memory in children with ADHD.

Other healthcare organizations that Akili has worked with include Pfizer, UCSF, Autism Speaks, and Shire Pharmaceuticals.