U.K. firms team up to develop mental health-tracking wearable devices

Cambridge Cognition and Ctrl Group have teamed up to develop mental health-focused wearables. The initiative will tap into Cambridge Cognition's experience making software to test for depression, schizophrenia and dementia in an attempt to bring Fitbit ($FIT)-style monitoring to mental health.

Interest in the tracking of mental health metrics using wearable devices has ticked up over the past year, in which period big names including Medtronic ($MDT) have begun to make moves in the sector. And the nascent market has now attracted Cambridge Cognition, a United Kingdom-based tech company that has already gained clearance to market a mobile app for assessing cognitive health in Europe. Cambridge Cognition is hooking up with Ctrl Group for the wearables initiative, which is aiming to have prototype products ready in the back half of this year.

In contrast to most activity tracking companies, the partners are aiming squarely at the healthcare and drug development markets. As with other wearables, the pitch centers on the ability to gather data on patients between site visits. For drug developers, such data could provide evidence that an experimental product is improving outcomes and is therefore worthy of approval or reimbursement. Biotechs including Biogen ($BIIB) have already shown an interest in collecting such data in multiple sclerosis and other CNS disorders, but, as it stands, there is a lack of devices for mental health trials.

Exactly how Cambridge Cognition and Ctrl Group intend to fill this gap is unclear, but The Financial Times has reported on some directions the partners may take. The paper reports data suggestive of reaction times could be gathered by tracking how quickly people unlock their smartphones. Analysis of social media usage is another possibility, as is the tracking of daily routines using a GPS. Other mental health projects involving wearables have looked to analyze electrocardiogram and heart rate variability data to gain insights into the state of an individual.

Whether any of these approaches can live up to the rigors of clinical trials remains to be seen, but, with the data-gathering capabilities of devices expanding, and the societal burdens of mental health issues growing, efforts to develop cognitive wearables are on the upswing. "Wearables have really taken off as a way for people to monitor and manage their physical health," Jenny Barnett, director of healthcare innovation at Cambridge Cognition, told The Financial Times. "We think the time is right for something similar in mental health."

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