Mindstrong Health, a technology company that wants to help treat neurological conditions by tracking a person’s smartphone use, announced this morning it has closed a $15 million Series B round of funding.
The Palo Alto, CA-based company is using the new money to move its product forward commercially on two paths. First, Mindstrong is partnering with biopharmaceutical companies, such as Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceutical and San Francisco-based BlackThorn Therapeutics. Second, Mindstrong is developing a clinical care business—a professional care corporation staffed by medical doctors who can provide care to patients that use Mindstrong’s app, according to Paul Dagum, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
“The challenge in all of this is knowing who is starting to deteriorate and detecting that early,” says Dagum, who spoke to Xconomy by phone. “We’ll basically create new clinical care pathways to detect changes early, and to deliver the clinical care.”
Mindstrong’s method of detecting things like cognitive decline or bouts of depression starts with its app, which can monitor a person’s use of his or her smartphone (you have to give the app permission to do so, of course). The app monitors things like the speed at which the user types text messages or the pace at which he or she reads a news article, but does so passively without requiring user input. It also doesn’t record or track the exact words typed or which articles are being read, Dagum says.
The ability to collect data from a person’s daily phone usage allows Mindstrong to understand that person’s peak performance—similar to a track athlete’s best 100-meter dash time—which creates a basis from which the company can judge any decline in mental state. For example, the same way it might be safe to assume a sprinter may have an injury if his or her splits begin dipping on average by a few seconds, a person with schizophrenia or depression may be relapsing if there are delays in word generation while texting, Dagum says.
Though Dagum admits that it is hard to account for the variability of life—giving a barista your coffee order might slow down a text speed—he contends that the company is getting enough data for the assessment to be valid. It sees enough daily usage for what is likely 365 days a year. Plus, Mindstrong’s machine learning algorithms are able to break down the data to the 100th millisecond, after the encrypted data are uploaded to the company’s Amazon Web Services cloud servers, he says.
In March, the company published a study in Nature’s NPJ Digital Magazine that it says shows the passive monitoring of smartphones could be used as an adequate surrogate for laboratory-based neuropsychological assessment. The company studied 27 people between the ages of 18 and 34 and used a set of “digital biomarkers”—potential changes in patterns, such as typing behavior—that it says could predict cognitive changes.
Mindstrong is working alongside its current pharmaceutical partners on more than one Phase 2 trial, Dagum says, declining to say exactly how many due to privacy agreements. The company believes pharmaceutical businesses are interested in using its technology as a companion diagnostic, or possibly even a companion therapeutic, particularly as drug developers create drugs for more specific types of depression or other neurological conditions.
“As drug companies move to precision psychiatry, they want to have a companion diagnostic to understand responders versus nonresponders,” Dagum says.
On the clinical care side, Mindstrong has signed a contract with a large U.S. state that will deployed the company’s product at community-based clinical care organizations, Dagum says. He declined to say which state because the agreement has not been made public.
Founded in 2014, Mindstrong raised a $14 million Series A round of funding last year, which was led by Foresite Capital and ARCH Venture Partners. Optum Ventures, the startup investing arm of Optum, the healthcare services business owned by Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), also participated, as did Berggruen Holdings and the One Mind Brain Health Impact Fund. Those investors also participated in the new Series B round, along with new investors Bezos Expeditions and Decheng Capital.
Mental health has been one of a few topics that have enraptured the collective consciousness in recent months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study last week about the continuous rise of suicide rates, noting that the almost 45,000 self-inflicted deaths in 2016 was close to a 30 percent increase since 1999. That’s heightened by high-profile suicides, from Robin Williams in 2014 to fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain just last week.
“It is the final hard outcome of poorly treated or untreated mental health,” Dagum says. “It’s not about intercepting suicide hours before someone has left a note. It’s about identifying these conditions five to 10 years earlier.”