Could a doctor treating ADHD or Alzheimer’s one day prescribe a video game? Eddie Martucci and Matthew Omernick think so -- and the cofounders of Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs recently raised more than $30 million from pharma companies, government grants and investors who agree. The team’s tablet-based game, EVO, guides players (er, patients) through a series of foreign worlds, where they collect stars and gems and interact with aliens. What seems like superficial play at first is actually carefully designed to improve attention, inhibition and working memory in kids with ADHD.
Where are you in the long slog to get FDA approval?
Martucci: The past four years have been about making this new kind of medicine a reality, and now we’re staring down the launch. We’re entering our phase-three clinical trial for our primary product, pediatric ADHD. The trial spans many sites across the country and multiple hundreds of patients. It’s the first-of-its-kind drug-style study in which patients are taking home a video game instead of a pill.
What are you working on while the trial is under way?
Martucci: It’s the not-so-sexy stuff -- growing the commercial part of the company, building a distribution system, hiring the actual people to put together the launch plan.
Omernick: We’ve never operated in a milestone-based way, where we accomplish something and take a pause to congratulate ourselves. Maybe once we’re to market, we can give each other a high five.
Your team is a mash-up of video game designers and cognitive neuroscientists. Was it hard to create a shared language?
Omernick: There were some early fears that the science requirements would make us build a less-fun game. But the science rigor actually forced us to dig deeper into the creative well.
Martucci: In that first year -- of prototyping and beta testing and so much back and forth -- there was tension. But once the prototype ran smoothly and the science side was excited and the game side was excited, we got past it. It was like we went from hoping to knowing we can do this.