Chairman:Perspective – Barry Wilson, MindMaze
Perspectives from Leaders in Digital Health
Interview with Barry Wilson, Chairman of the Board, MindMaze
Neuroscientist, Dr Tej Tadi founded MindMaze in 2011 to develop technologies that help patients recover from brain injuries. Between the end of last year and the second half of this year his company successfully launched devices which use virtual reality, brain imaging and gaming technologies to retrain the brain in stroke victims. MindMaze is now developing other solutions for traumatic brain injuries, pain management in amputee patients, treatment for neurodegenerative diseases as well as a vast array of neuro-tech solutions for the Media and Transportation industries. The company’s medical-grade technology facilitates robust diagnostic and therapeutic advantages for a wide range of neurological disorders.
MindMaze has developed a breakthrough platform to build intuitive human machine interfaces combining virtual reality (VR), computer graphics, brain imaging & neuroscience. The technology enables exciting new applications in gaming, brain machine control, and healthcare. MindMaze, a spin out from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), is now translating its VR and Neuroscience expertise into new fields of consumer health and technology.
The company’s first commercialized product, MindMotionPRO is a neuro-rehabilitation product for stroke and brain injury patients. In November 2015 the company was granted a CE mark for MindMotionPRO for use in hospitals and clinics in Europe. Healthcare professionals can use the system for bedside early motor training in the sub-acute rehabilitation phase. MindMaze has recently raised a $100 million round of funding and is setting its sights on stateside growth, with plans this year to test its platform in key U.S. healthcare centres, exploring the device’s ability to improve motor and cognitive recovery in patients.
The company leadership is consolidated by senior neuroscientists and healthcare industry leaders from large medical device companies. In June Coulter:Pulse interviewed Chairman of the MindMaze Board, Barry Wilson, retired President of Medtronic International, former President of Lederle International and former President of Bristol-Myers Squibb Europe. He gave us some insights into the Digital Health arena and the ground-breaking innovations at MindMaze:
Coulter: Pulse – What significant trends do you see developing in the Digital Health space?
Barry – Medical Technology is evolving in many new exciting directions and coming together with IT and drug delivery in a triangular relationship. We’ve moved on from passive to active medical devices such as pacemakers, with millions of chips and technology that can monitor, deliver therapy, gather data and so on. Newer developments mean we can use these implantable devices and add in drug delivery as well. The ultimate example is a product that Medtronic has had in trials for some time – an implantable diabetic drug pump. External devices like insulin pumps or injectables can be cumbersome and obtrusive in a patient’s day to day living, while an implanted pump with a long acting monthly insulin injection would allow a person to go about life more easily and do much more without others even being aware of the device.
Now in many areas the triangular relationship between medical device, drug delivery and IT is unfolding to afford patients the opportunity of more personalised medical treatment, based on data that is gathered and analysed to help track and manage their healthcare more effectively. The broad scope of digital health now evolving is also aimed at improving access, reducing costs and increasing quality.
Coulter:Pulse – How does MindMaze fit into this picture with their innovations in the field of virtual and augmented reality?
Barry – There are huge unmet medical needs in developed markets – diseases of the eye, the brain and cancer, among others – where the medical device and drug companies are focussing their efforts and where there is the potential for reimbursement. With millions of sufferers worldwide, stroke is one such disease and one which is on the increase. This is a modern disease and a symptom of the times, where an ageing population and additional factors such as smoking, obesity and genetics come into play.
Following hospital treatment, stroke victims can face a long and rocky road to recovery and rehabilitation is costly. Weakness or paralysis in the right hand side of the body may require slow and laborious intervention from therapists. The MindMaze solution uses avatars and some very clever programming and gaming technology to train the contralateral side of the brain to control the weakened right hand side of the body. Traditionally the therapist works with primitive tools and progress is slow, using repetitive motor exercises such as picking up a pencil and putting it in a tin.
The MindMaze system by contrast employs virtual reality to map the movement of the left hand side of the body absolutely on the screen and trick the right hand side of the brain into believing the immobile right hand side is moving; so the brain begins to train this side to take over the function that the left side is performing.
An additional benefit is that instead of working one on one with a patient, the therapist can operate several machines and treat several patients at once. In the past the neuro-specialist asked the therapist how the patient was doing and they reported very gradual improvements but could give no real data of any accuracy. Thanks to the MindMotionPRO, one can now digitally measure how far the patient is moving each time and record these measurements and track their progress.
More importantly, after ten days or so in hospital the patient can go home with a take-home device – a specialised home computer – and work for several hours each day, depending on their motivation and capabilities. Whereas before a stroke victim might have returned home with little improvement and further rehabilitation treatment limited because of insurance or other costs, now they can continue to progress and reduce the care burden on family or the public sector. Patient motivation, family inclusiveness in the treatment and data collection by a healthcare professional remain at the forefront with the MindMaze technology because it is an entertaining game, designed by physiotherapists that can be played along with family members, so that the repetition of movement does not become mundane but has a chance to be reinforced.
Clinical trials with a number of hospitals have shown just how exciting stroke patients find the gaming technology and have demonstrated substantial improvements in their rehabilitation towards living a full life again.
Neuroplasticity of the brain offers other avenues for the MindMaze platform, such as tackling phantom pain in amputees. An amputee who continues to feel the pain in a non-existing limb can be treated with this technology to control the phantom pain signalled by the brain.
I would like to see this technology applied to combat other serious conditions. Suffered by millions worldwide, tinnitus is also based on signals from the brain and this “ringing in the ears” can give rise to a range of debilitating symptoms that include sleep deprivation and depression, sometimes to the point of desperation and suicide.
Coulter: Pulse – Is data privacy protection likely to be a showstopper for Digital Health?
Digital health records will be very important for the future and are seen as a central component of reducing health care costs. In Switzerland for instance, medical records are increasingly becoming digital, obviating the need to carry x-rays or MRI scans around. A very high percentage of GMP is spent on record keeping and insurance in the US and theirs is a very cumbersome process, by comparison.
In Switzerland record keeping is very streamlined and straight forward. A very liberal system is in operation where there is a great deal of freedom in the choice of doctor or healthcare provider. A single insurance card is presented to a doctor or pharmacist and then just one barcode is needed for insurance payment calculations and reimbursements. Switzerland has a fully privatised medical system where base health insurance is mandatory and people have a large choice of insurance companies to choose from. This may make evolution towards a digitalised health system easier to implement than in countries where the health system is managed by the state.
Digital health records are so critical for serious acute conditions like heart failure and diabetes and we are seeing a significant increase in electronic wearable devices to monitor such conditions and their treatment. Data collected is used by data centres to alert patients, for instance when they have been oblivious to a dip or spike in their blood sugar level, or if a signal from their implanted pacemaker or defibrillator suggests they need to see a medic. In the final analysis, not only is such a device itself expensive but the subsequent trip to hospital is even more so. The huge cost of treatment in the ICU means that insurers will do everything they can to keep a patient out of hospital.
Data privacy is talked about a lot but the benefits of such wearable tracking devices in terms of cost efficiency and helping to reduce insurance premiums are seen by many to outweigh the concerns about invasion of privacy or cybersecurity. In Europe the use of identity cards and digital data is accepted more readily perhaps than in the US or the UK for example.
Coulter: Pulse – With the fast pace of developments in Digital Health are you seeing a shortage of talent in this area?
Barry – Strong talent in this area with both types of experience in medical technology and the digital space is of course in great demand and in short supply. MindMaze is fortunate to have a comprehensive range of skill profiles in these areas and CEO, Tej Tadi is at the nexus of digital knowhow and what medicine needs, being a Neuroscientist himself. The new COO, recently appointed from a strong field of candidates presented by Coulter Partners, brings an extensive background in Life Sciences to the table, with global C-suite, strategic and NED experience in Biopharmaceuticals and Pharmaceuticals.