The First Prescription Treatment Delivered Through a Video Game
08 Jul, 2020
Games Developer Akili has announced FDA clearance of EndeavorRx™ for Children with ADHD, making it the first prescription treatment delivered through a video game. We spoke to Matt Omernick, Co-Founder, and the Chief Creative Officer at Akili and formerly LucasArts, to get the scoop on the significance of this development and the importance of the project.
The First Prescription Treatment Delivered Through a Video Game
Firstly, please can you introduce yourself, game and studio?
My name is Matt Omernick, and I’m a Co-Founder, and the Chief Creative Officer at Akili. Akili Interactive is a Digital Health Company pioneering clinically and regulatory-validated, physician-prescribed, consumer quality video games…as Medicine.
Working with leading Cognitive Neuroscientists, we are developing the World’s first truly therapeutic mobile games to treat cognitive illnesses such as ADHD, Depression, Autism, MS, as well as a range of additional patient populations.
Our company has locations both in Boston and in the San Francisco bay area, leveraging the best of both Healthcare, and Entertainment/Technology. We’re an amazing mix of Neuroscientists, Game Designers/Engineers, Data Scientists, Regulatory and Healthcare experts, the list goes on. Our very diverse backgrounds and industries makes for something really special.
Tell us what’s special about EndeavorRx?
EndeavorRx is the first FDA-cleared prescription treatment delivered through a video game. It’s also the first digital therapeutic (DTx) that has a direct therapeutic effect on neural pathways.
Instead of “digitizing” traditional medicine like app-based cognitive behavioral therapy, with EndeavorRx, the technology is the medicine. It’s a particularly challenging game, it has to be to make lasting change in the brain.
However, it’s highly adaptive to each individual at any given moment, adjusting the challenge to be fine-tuned to strengthen the appropriate neural pathways (Neuroplasticity) in the pre-fontal cortex, ultimately improving attention abilities.
This is the world’s first prescriptive treatment videogame, how does that feel?
We’re extremely proud to make history with EndeavorRx. It marks an incredibly important milestone for both the Healthcare and Games industries, breaking a barrier that will forever change them both for the better.
How will it be used in the treatment of people with ADHD?
EndeavorRx is designed to improve attention function in children ages 8-12 years old with are diagnosed with ADHD and who have a demonstrated attention issues. It should be used as part of a therapeutic program for ADHD that may include: clinician-directed therapy, medication, and/or educational programs.
Patients play the game for roughly 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week for an initial month’s “dose”. Our data in trials shows that improvements are further gained to an even greater degree by playing a second month’s treatment, with a break in-between. And for those of you curious about screen time and game addiction, because this is medicine, EndeavorRx locks itself each day after the 30 minutes of play, which is really unique.
What is the special moment for you when you see people playing and benefiting from the game?
Seeing the results from the clinical trials is always exciting, but what really gets me are the testimonials of parents and children reporting real-world improvements in their daily lives (school, home, socially etc).
Although we’re constantly working to further enhance the efficacy, and the engagement of the treatment, the gameplay does not compete at the level of a Fortnight, or Minecraft in degrees of “fun”, it’s most certainly the most fun kids have ever had taking medicine. I love seeing that joy and motivation kick in while kids are engaging with the product.
It’s been a long time coming, ten years, five clinical trials, why take on such a challenge?
Since founding Akili in 2011, we’ve been driven by a mission to challenge the status quo of medicine to help people living with cognitive impairments. And we believe that effective medicine can also be enjoyable.
It’s always been extremely important to us to approach the development of digital treatments as you would a traditional drug, with rigorous clinical validation. We spent about 7 years studying EndeavorRx, including in a large randomized study similar to what you would conduct for a drug, to evaluate its safety and efficacy.
It’s now been FDA approved, why was that important to you?
While we had studied the product across 5 clinical trials, given EndeavorRx is nothing like any medicine families or doctors have seen before, we decided to go through the regulatory process as we felt the external rigorous review conducted by FDA would give families and doctors full confidence in our product, and in the this new type of medicine and industry in general. We felt a responsibility to set a crystal clear, high bar for digital therapeutics. This is not “brain training”, this is real medicine.
Do you feel technology has a place as a treatment alongside traditional medicine?
Yes. We believe the “doctor’s bag” of the future includes both traditional and digital medicines. Families and physicians are looking for new options, including effective non-drug therapies that can be safely used as part of comprehensive treatment plans to help those living with various diseases and disorders.
How far do you think we can take gaming in medical treatments? What’s your next ambition?
As we gather valuable data on EndeavorRx use in the real world, we’ll continue to make improvements to the experience – that’s the power of digital therapeutics. But EndeavorRx is just the beginning. We’re continuing to study this technology and others as we look to ultimately help all those living with cognitive impairments.
And for us, it’s not just about the treatment but about the entire patient experience. Along with EndeavorRx, we’re launching the Endeavor Care Program which also includes a mobile tracking app for caregivers to monitor their child’s symptoms and behaviors on the go, a personalized dashboard to show treatment progression and track behaviors over time, and access to the Akili Assist team to guide families through their journey. We will continue to build on this to support families.
Your previously LucasArts, why the change in direction?
That’s easy. The chance to use my powers for good. Although I’ve spent many wonderful years in the traditional games industry and loved it, this has been so much more fulfilling both personally, and creatively.
While working at Lucas, I had the opportunity to help Dr. Adam Gazzaley at UCSF develop the very first early prototype game, called “Neuroracer” that ultimately grew into the core technology for EndeavorRx. We brought in some other folks from LucasArts, Dmitri Ellingson, Eric Johnston, Adam Piper, and Noah Falstein.
Working on that prototype, it became very clear that this was the future I wanted to help enable. The chance to truly change Medicine, improve people’s lives, and simultaneously dissolve some of the stigma of games, was impossible to pass up. So, after finishing Star Wars: The Force Unleased II, I left LucasArts to help found Akili.
What’s next for you and EndeavorRx?
Our immediate goal is to get EndeavorRx into the hands of families and physicians. We’re working hard to get the systems in place now to allow for the treatment to be prescribed and hope to have it available in the next couple of months.
Beyond that, we have almost too many opportunities to count, new products for populations such as Depression, Anxiety, Autism, Multiple Sclerosis, Memory and Aging. I’m personally excited to see how the door we just opened changes the future of Healthcare.
I see a world where everyone recognizes that their cognitive health is just as important (or even more so) than their physical health, and we can use these tools to learn more about the brain in the next 10 years than we’ve learned in the past 50.
For more information, visit AkiliInteractive.com and to be notified as soon as EndeavorRx is available, visit GetEndeavor.com.
Thanks for reading our interview with Matt on The First Prescription Treatment Delivered Through a Video Game. For more Indie Gaming interviews visit the Into Indie Games Features Pages.