Daily Briefing – October 5, 2019

“During a presentation about the future of psychiatry at a meeting of mental health professionals, Arshya Vahabzadeh, MD, asked his audience to raise their hands if they were already practicing telepsychiatry. Scattered around the packed convention center ballroom, just a dozen or a few more participants raised their hands. “Telepsychiatry is booming,” said Vahabzadeh, the chief medical officer of Brain Power, a neuroscience tech startup that makes artificial intelligence (AI)–based, gamified wearables for people with developmental disorders, like autism, or other brain conditions. More hands would be in the air at the next meeting, he said. Telepsychiatry is just one example of how technology, and in particular artificial intelligence and machine learning, is changing the future of the profession. In Vahabzadeh’s view, such innovation is sorely needed when one considers the mental health state of America. Vahabzadeh cited such dire facts as the CDC report from 2018, which showed an increased suicide rate in every state between 1999 and 2016, with half of states having an increase of 30% or more. Along with suicides, deaths from alcohol and drugs have risen; in addition, the burden of mental health challenges are increasingly borne by children and teenagers, and whether the patient is a teen or an adult, few people who need mental healthcare actually get it. But emerging technologies have the potential to push psychiatry into a new era of evidence-based care, with improved treatment and access, he said. “There are lots of different technologies, but they’re going to come in different stages,” he said, displaying a continuum of such efforts that we are just at the beginning stages of now—using smartphones, telemedicine, and wearable sensors—which will evolve more into AI, virtual reality, augmented reality, natural language processing, genotyping, and neuroimaging.”

“The Psychiatry Consortium has announced its first call for projects that focus on the identification of novel drug targets, in order to address the unmet therapeutic needs of people with mental health conditions. The organisation has also confirmed that applicants can submit project proposals to the consortium from the 7th of October 2019. The Consortium, a collaboration between leading medical charities, pharma and healthcare companies, is focussed on the drug discovery challenge of identifying and validating novel drug targets, aiming to provide approximately £3 million in research funding over three years to support high-value drug discovery projects. The initiative comes as despite the increasing need for better medicines to treat psychiatry conditions, funding for mental health research has remained flat over the ten-year period from 2008 – 2017, but with recent scientific advances and a better understanding of the biology underlying psychiatric disorders, there is now a renewed opportunity to advance R&D in psychiatry.”

“SAN DIEGO—Data has the power to give mental health clinicians a better understanding of patients and their well-being, and today’s technology can easily collect and disseminate that data, physician and entrepreneur Arshya Vahabzadeh, MD, told attendees at the opening session of Psych Congress 2019. Dr. Vahabzadeh, chief medical officer of the neurotechnology company Brain Power, is director of addiction services at Cynergi Health, a part-time correctional psychiatrist and telepsychiatrist, and innovation officer at Massachusetts General Hospital Academy. Only 1 in 2 people who need mental health care receive it, suicide rates are increasing, and psychiatric conditions are impairing people early in their lives and shortening their life span by 1 to 2 decades, he said in explaining the need for improved mental health care. He questioned whether inefficient rating scales are leading clinicians to miss subtle conditions present in patients. In depression, for example, the 7 most commonly used scales assess 52 symptoms, with only 6 of them occurring in all scales, and 21 appearing in only 1 scale. “So what are we even measuring if we don’t have this agreement in our most commonly used research instruments, these gold standard instruments?” he asked, noting that 227 different symptom combinations can result in a major depressive disorder diagnosis under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). “How do we push and change things so we understand our patients and their conditions in a better way?” he said. “We need a data-driven approach.””

“NEW YORK CITY—Uber is looking to get into pharmacy medication delivery. The prescription eyeglass company Warby Parker is moving into virtual eye exams and audio equipment maker Bose wants to help consumers get better sleep through hearing technology. Consumer-focused companies are rapidly moving further into healthcare and industry incumbents need to be ready for accelerating change: that was one of the big takeaways from CB Insights’ Future of Health conference in Manhattan this week. It’s not just startups attacking entrenched interests in healthcare; it’s large companies as well, said CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal during the conference. “The field of play is changing pretty dramatically and the competitive lines are constantly being redrawn,” he said, noting Amazon’s “unbundling” of the pharmacy, Apple’s unbundling of the clinical trials process and Google’s unbundling of the hospital.”