While artificial intelligence and machine learning are increasingly powering a digital health boom, AI is still very much in its infancy when it comes to mental and behavioral well-being. This isn’t really a surprise, as the ability to understanding human thoughts and feelings –not ‘merely’ crunching blood test data or medical scans for signs of disease– is much harder than telling if a person’s kidney is about to fail. Boosting one’s mood or providing personalized treatments for psychiatric disorders, and particularly depression, is harder still.
Depression is the world’s leading health burden according to the World Health Organization. Patients often face tedious trial and error processes to navigate the ocean of antidepressants. Many patients are dissatisfied with primary healthcare services, do not adhere to treatment, and report debilitating side effects. Recent research shows that two thirds of patients fail to get better following taking their first-time antidepressant and a further 30% completely quit their first line of treatment.
To tackle depression and anxiety, startups are coming out with a range of AI-based tools designed to help psychiatrists and family doctors optimize care sooner.
Taliaz, a Tel-Aviv based startup, is developing an AI-driven decision support tool called PREDICTIX that helps doctors identify the right antidepressant medication. PREDICTIX was developed based on data from the largest prospective clinical trial on depression to date, the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) Study. Taliaz says that after developing the algorithms, the tool was able to predict efficacy and adverse effects of current antidepressants, with up to nearly 75% accuracy.
“Only by combining deep scientific research, genetics, neurological, environmental and clinical data, can we understand these complexities and identify the relevant markers to build prediction models that can offer these patients the best outcome,” says Taliaz CEO Dekel Taliaz, who has a PhD in Neuroscience from the Weizmann Institute. “With a simple, non-invasive test, we collect a patient’s DNA sample alongside his or her demographic and clinical history via an online questionnaire. PREDICTIX then provides predictive information about antidepressant drugs and recommends the ones best suited to each patient’s genetic makeup and health record,” he says.
In March, Taliaz launched what it says is the first online AI-driven genetic testing service for depression sufferers with the UK’s leading online psychiatry service, Psychiatry UK LLP (PUK). The online medically-managed PREDICTIX serviceaims to reduce patient suffering by helping psychiatrists better identify the right antidepressant medication earlier.
“One of our patients who had not responded to four antidepressants, reported that after starting the medication recommended by the Predictix test three weeks previous, is now feeling like “I am a different person” and “I feel 80% better in myself”,” said Dr Adil Jawad, Psychiatrist at Psychiatry UK, the UK’s leading online psychiatry service. Psychiatry UK provide services to both the NHS and the private sector.
Another Israeli brain technology company looking to improve depression treatment effectiveness is Elminda, which was recently awarded EUR 2.8M by the European Commission to bring its technology to European patients suffering from depression. Elminda’s brain analytics product, BNA-PREDICT, predicts responsiveness to both antidepressants and neurostimulation treatments, allowing physicians to not only select the most effective anti-depression treatment but also monitor that treatment’s effect directly in the brain of the patients.
“We are very proud of the two-year award granted to Elminda by the European Commission’s prestigious Horizon 2020’s phase 2 Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) instrument”, says Dr. Roni Sharon, Elminda’s Harvard-trained Medical Director.
It seems clearer than ever that sound mental health is essential for creativity, productivity and ingenuity in the 21st century. As time goes by, we expect to see more and more startups and investors joining forces to promote and improve emotional, psychological and social well-being. In that context, it only seems natural that as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, its algorithms will be optimized to create ever more helpful support mechanisms, hopefully developing expertise useful in the most complex and error-prone situations. While we still do not know what the future holds for companies like Taliaz and Elminda, we can only hope to see them play a pivotal role in shaping the way patients apply and adhere to the right therapies and providing relief in their everyday lives.