Tracking daily smartphone use to predict and intervene in mental health.
CEO: Paul Dagum, M.D., Ph.D.
The scoop: This Takeda-partnered medtech firm is going after mental health using mobile phone apps, but with a twist: It wants to use technology to help aid mental health prediction.
How? The company is at work on a smartphone app that analyzes user habits to passively track a person’s cognitive function and mood, aiming to predict mental health events and help guard against deterioration.
What makes Mindstrong Health fierce: There is serious pedigree here, being founded by Stanford computer scientist Paul Dagum, M.D., Ph.D., alongside former director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Verily executive Thomas Insel, M.D., and former National Cancer Institute Director Rick Klausner, M.D., co-founder of Grail and Juno Therapeutics, and formerly CMO at Illumina.
Mindstrong's also raised $29 million to date, through two rounds of financing and from big-name investors, including ARCH Ventures, Bezos Expeditions, Foresite Capital, Optum Ventures and Decheng Capital. At the start of the year, it also boosted its initial series B with an additional investment of $31 million, led by General Catalyst.
Mental health is a major, ongoing issue across the world, but one regularly ignored by biopharma and the medtech industry. There are medicines, such as antipsychotic drugs, for more serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia, as well as anti-anxiety drugs and SSRIs for depression.
Some of these have poor efficacy, or come with high side effects, and the industry as a whole doesn’t invest money into mental health the way it does cancer, for instance, or rare diseases—areas which can yield high-end profits. Treating mental health, while potentially lucrative, continually proves difficult, and treatments typically must also be used alongside face-to-face, talking therapies aimed at cognitive behaviors, making them more complex pathways.
But mental health issues are major killers: In most Western countries, suicide is the largest killer of younger men, under age 49, with issues such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder forming a deep-seated societal issue.
Mindstrong says simply that “Mental health matters.” With an estimated $2.5 trillion global cost projected to reach $6 trillion by 2030, and no changes in morbidity and mortality seen over the last two decades—in fact, people with mental illness die 10 to 30 years earlier than the general population, and suicide rates in the U.S. have been on a steady incline—reducing the prevalence and improving the outcomes of mental illness remains one of the greatest global challenges.
“Brain disorders account for over 20% of the global burden of diseases as measured by disability adjusted life years (DALYs): greater than cardiac diseases or cancers,” the company says. And while the social, health and economic scales of the problem are immense, company representatives point out that advances in technology and innovation are starting to offer solutions.
Mindstrong’s offering is based upon continuous, objective measures of cognition and mood, and connects patients and providers through a telehealth platform with a goal of enabling early intervention and engagement when mental health deterioration is detected.
“Mindstrong aims to augment and extend existing care models and provider/clinic teams by delivering measurement-based insights and additional clinical support through telehealth-based licensed care and care management services,” according to the company. The company says its tech is content-free and “never collects what’s typed, contacts, geolocation data, voice data, search terms, usernames or passwords, browsing history or data from other apps.”
Mindstrong sees the fields of psychiatry and neurology as having been limited by the inability to objectively and continuously measure brain health. Traditional measures, generally questionnaires and cognitive tasks, have “relatively low inter-rater reliability and are subjective and episodic, failing to assess patients in their real world, everyday settings.”
But Mindstrong wants to overcome this, using its app to help measure brain health on a daily and objective basis using patterns of smartphone touchscreen interactions like taps and swipes to recreate “gold-standard measurements” of cognition and mood: “These digital biomarkers, coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones, offer the potential for mental health to be the area of medicine most transformed by the digital revolution.”
Last March, the company unveiled a study evaluating 27 volunteers to detect when they deviated from their daily habits. Combining those digital biomarkers with other social and environmental data helped the software predict possible behavioral issues and performance on standard neurocognitive tests, the company says.
And earlier in 2018, Mindstrong announced a partnership with Japanese pharma Takeda to identify digital biomarkers in schizophrenia and treatment-resistant depression.
The team is also working with a Fierce 15 company and mental-health biotech, BlackThorn Therapeutics, announcing a tie-up in 2017 that will see the company use Mindstrong’s technology to passively collect digital behavioral biomarkers in a series of phase 2a clinical studies of BTRX-246040, BlackThorn’s lead program.