CEO of Akili Interactive Labs
So-called brain games have gotten a bad rap of late, especially since the creators and marketers of Lumosity’s “brain training” program agreed to pay the FTC $2 million for making deceptive advertising claims. Martucci doesn’t seem all that worried about the additional scrutiny – even though, on the surface, his company develops products that fall into the brain game category.
Akili Interactive Labs, which Martucci cofounded in 2012, has exploded on healthcare’s radar with a video game designed to treat ADHD. But unlike other brain-game companies that have made unsubstantiated claims backed by questionable research, Akili is rigorous about the science underlying its creations. “Akili’s digital medicine is quite different,” Martucci told MM&M in an email. “We only want to deliver a product on the market when we have the data that convince regulatory authorities, doctors, patients, and ourselves that this is indeed a product worth calling medicine.”
In December, the company reported positive results from a late-stage trial of the video game and said it expects to file with the FDA by the end of the year. By seeking approval from regulators to market the game as a digital medication, Martucci and Akili are at the forefront of a new field of medicine, which he refers to as digital therapeutics. Compared to the wider world of digital health apps and products, the bar is much higher.
“The best analogy I have is between supplements and medicine. The former may or may not help you, and you may be willing to give it a try. The latter is where you turn when you’re a patient and really need help,” Martucci explained. “We want to deliver on that promise to patients. It’s night and day.”
Unlike the hundreds of entrepreneurs rushing into the biotech space without any significant industry experience, Martucci has a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. And where many health tech innovators in his age range have tried their hand at starting multiple companies, Martucci has stayed the course for more than six years with Akili. It’s an exciting time for the company – “It’s all a bit wild!” is the way Martucci puts it – as well as for digital therapeutics as a category. “We’re in a class of digital therapeutics that has the potential to directly treat a disease, and therefore think of ourselves as direct digital medicine,” he enthused.