Akili is building its own digital therapeutic distribution platform, foregoing pharma partnerships

At CES 2019, the digital therapeutic company's CEO and cofounder described work on an independent prescription, procurement and support platform specific to digital medicines.
By Dave Muoio
12:05 pm
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Left to right: Dr. Daniel Kraft, Fitbit's Any McDonough, Verily's Dr. Jess Mega and Akili's Eddie Martucci chat on stage at CES 2019’s Digital Health Summit

Digital therapeutics are a nascent corner of the healthcare technology industry. With few precedents available outside of novel drugs or medical devices, it would make sense that Pear Therapeutics, Proteus and other digital therapeutics companies furthest along the regulatory pipeline align themselves with industry partners well versed in selling and supporting a medical product.

As such, it came as a bit of a surprise when Akili Interactive Labs CEO and cofounder Eddie Martucci casually mentioned that his company would be bucking the trend of its contemporaries by building its own distribution platform for the video game-based therapeutic, as opposed to relying on relationships and sales channels of an established pharmaceutical company.

“There’s a little bit of a psychological assumption that the pharmaceutical industry must partner and deliver this for it to be a legitimate medicine,” Martucci said on stage yesterday at CES 2019’s Digital Health Summit. “I disagree vehemently. We may partner with pharmaceuticals or medical device manufacturers, but we are building today the end-to-end [prescription and procurement] process, the entire backend for digital medicine that doesn’t exist today — the sales force, the medical affairs, the insurance processing — that will enable a platform for scalable digital medicine. It’s expensive; we haven’t launched the product, we’ve raised $120 million. But it’s an investment worth making, and it’s something that I’m very passionate about.”

In an email to MobiHealthNews, a representative for Akili confirmed that the project Martucci described on stage is under works, and noted how such an approach could improve the connection between the therapeutic maker and its users.

“Akili is definitely looking at building a very different type of commercial model than traditional pharma. And building it ourselves. We believe it’s the only way to build the meaningful relationships with patients we feel our products enable, if not demand,” the representative wrote.

Martucci was hesitant to share more specific details on the project while it’s in its early stages, and to expect more concrete updates within the coming months. Speaking to MobiHealthNews after the CES presentation, he stressed that while Akili’s plans don’t necessarily rule out any previous or future partnerships with pharmas or device makers, the company other digital therapeutics makers shouldn’t be content with simply “giving away” their product industry vets in exchange for distribution support.

Why it matters

In laying the groundwork for digital therapeutics in healthcare, the market distribution decisions made by Akili and its contemporaries will likely have a ripple effect on the developing field.

So far, Pear Therapeutics and Novartis have been very vocal about their development and distribution partnerships, which recently culminated in a hybrid digital distribution model for the launch of reSET. Meanwhile, Otsuka Pharmaceutical lent its support and expertise to the regulatory efforts of Proteus Digital Health, and recently provided the digital pill maker $88 million as Abilify MyCite sees a gradual rollout across healthcare system pilots. And on a broader scale, the past year has seen Novartis and other international drugmakers speak on how the pharma industry could benefit from distribution partnerships with these companies.

With this in mind, Akili’s interest in a more self-sufficient model could be a fork in the road for digital therapeutics and the position that these companies will hold in the healthcare industry.

What’s the trend

Akili has been actively pursuing FDA clearance of Project: Evo, its pediatric ADHD therapy, for roughly a year now, and has a fair body of clinical evidence backing its case. Last year saw the the company raise $68 million in its latest round of funding, while a recent pilot study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found evidence that the video game therapeutic was feasible and well adhered to by young patients.

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