Akili, Autism Speaks partner to study mobile game's efficacy

By Aditi Pai
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Project EvoBoston-based Akili Interactive Labs has partnered with Delivering Scientific Innovation for Autism (DELSIA), a not-for-profit subsidiary of Autism Speaks. DELSIA is funding an efficacy study of Akili's iOS-based game, called Project: EVO, with children that have high-functioning autism and ADHD.

The trial will be a blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study "that will look to measure cognitive and symptom improvement over one month of device play", according to Akili. Recruitment will begin toward the end of the year.

Project: EVO is not available in the Apple AppStore -- the company aims to get the game FDA-cleared first.

“We are very excited to have the involvement and backing of such an excellent organization that believes in our vision: validated medical products that also have a fun user experience,” Akili COO Eddie Martucci said in a statement. “Our products combine the high engagement and high-resolution data of the tech industry with the strong scientific underpinning of the medical industry. We are excited to advance our products further into the clinic and into the market."

Project: EVO is designed to assess and treat cognitive issues. To play the game, a user navigates an alien, chosen specifically because it is culture-neutral but also relatable, down a course by tilting a smartphone or tablet back and forth. While navigating the alien, the user must also respond to targets by tapping the screen. Because it is high resolution, the app keeps track of movements every 30 milliseconds and can therefore monitor the user’s behavior and quickly adapt to the player. 

This is the third strategic partnership for Akili. In January 2014, Akili partnered with Pfizer to conduct a study of Project: EVO in the hopes of using the game to detect indications of Alzheimer’s in healthy individuals. In 2013, Shire, a pharmaceutical company with "deep experience in ADHD clinical trials", invested in Akili and worked closely with the company to structure and launch their first clinical study of Project:EVO.

A couple months ago, Akili's parent company, PureTech, raised $50 million. This raise, combined with the company's October 2014 funding announcement, brought PureTech's recent funding to $107 million. Invesco Perpetual participated in the round.

In October, PureTech also announced three new senior partners including Director of the MIT Media Lab Joi Ito and Nobel Laureate Dr. H Robert Horvitz. Last month, PureTech added former Sanofi CEO Christopher Viehbacher to its board.