Akili's video game treatment for depression improves cognitive symptoms: study

With preparations for the commercial rollout of its first prescription digital therapeutic well underway, Akili Interactive is now turning its attention to other neurological conditions that its particular brand of video game-based treatments could potentially address.

Its first product, EndeavorRx, was cleared by the FDA in 2020 to help improve attention in children between the ages of 8 and 12 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Following it down the pipeline are programs to treat a broader range of kids with ADHD, as well as new games to address the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, post-COVID-19 “brain fog” and multiple sclerosis.

Akili is also offering up its digital approach for major depressive disorder, an attempt that was proven successful in study results published Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The depression treatment, currently referred to as AKL-T03, is aimed specifically at improving the cognitive impairments associated with the disorder—like difficulty concentrating, making decisions and remembering things—rather than mood, and is meant to be prescribed alongside traditional antidepressant drugs.

It’s built on the same platform as EndeavorRx, but with an entirely new game interface designed for an adult patient population. The platform delivers sensory stimuli and motor skill challenges throughout a series of games to activate and retrain the parts of the brain associated with attention control, and its algorithms constantly analyze a user’s performance to alter the difficulty level and personalize the treatment to their needs.

In the study, 74 adults between the ages of 25 and 55 who had actively been taking a prescription antidepressant were asked to complete about 25 minutes of gameplay per day, five days a week for six weeks. The group was split between either the Akili games or another digital control, both of which were administered on an iPad.

Using the FDA-cleared Test of Variables of Attention, or TOVA, the researchers were able to conclude at the end of the study period that participants assigned to use the Akili system showed significant improvements in their sustained attention and overall cognitive functioning compared to the control group.

“Society is facing a growing mental health crisis, with depression rates in the U.S. increasing about 20% during the pandemic. While mood symptoms are most often associated with MDD, equally concerning are the frequent associated cognitive impairments,” said Richard Keefe, Ph.D., primary investigator of the study. “More than ever, we need safe and effective ways to support these patients—new tools that can be easily and broadly accessed. Based on the results of this study, AKL-T03 has the potential to play a meaningful role in the treatment of MDD patients.”

The promising update to Akili’s pipeline comes as the Boston-based company prepares to enter the public markets. In January, it signed an agreement with Social Capital Suvretta Holdings Corp. I, a special purpose acquisition company, to combine in a reverse merger that’s expected to result in a $1 billion equity value for the newly public Akili.

The SPAC deal is expected to close sometime around the middle of this year.