Globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression, and unfortunately, 1 in 3 does not recover from medications or therapy. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a form of brain stimulation technique, can be effective against treatment-resistant depression, but require anesthesia, have significant cognitive side effects, and high stigma. Another brain stimulation technique that is emerging is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which does not require anesthesia and has no cognitive side effects, offering a higher tolerability. However, it has a much lower potency and efficacy than medications and ECT.
The Ottawa-based startup NeuroQore specializes in magnetic brain stimulation technology, and is determined to get more people with depression into remission faster. Their technology is based on rTMS and uses magnetic pulses to send tones directly into the brain of patients to create positive feedback. By doing so, the brain is trained to prolong a healthy brainwave pattern permanently. While traditional rTMS system involves manually placing a coil on the patient’s scalp, through which small electromagnetic currents stimulate the brain, the startup’s technology is guided by brain images and coils precisely positioned using robotics. This provide far more precision and accuracy, and the magnetic field that is generated penetrates deeper into the brain for increased stimulation. In addition, NeuroQore measure its results with biomarkers as physical evidence, taking out some of the guesswork of current treatment options, and help guide both treatment and progression.
NeuroQore is already approved in Canada and is working on getting FDA approval. Their new rTMS system was installed at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre in 2015 and successfully passed tolerability testing in a pilot study, and is now recruiting patients for the next round of testing. Preliminary clinical data is promising, with the startup claiming an 87.5% remission success rate over drug-resistant depression.
Every year, more than 16 million people are diagnosed with major depressive disorder in the US alone, and more than 4 million remain drug-resistant. Currently, there is a large unmet need, with current options having major side effects or low remission rates. NeuroQore has developed an innovative technology that make the treatment of drug-resistant depression more accessible and effective. The startup could change mental health care and psychiatry as we know it, allowing patients to come to centers to monitor their depression and get effective outpatient treatment in 10 to 15 minutes. In addition, the technology has the potential to be used for a range of cognitive and psychiatric disorders, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The startup has the potential to be a disruptive innovation that results in improved health care for patients with treatment-resistant depression. And it could even be a good alternative for elderly and youth, who often are unable to take antidepressants. The technology could increase access to care, improve outcomes and quality of life of millions around the world, potentially reducing the burden of depression that is on a dramatic rise globally.
NeuroQore has been part of the Invest Ottawa incubator, and previous financing sources include the National Research Council, The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Ontario Centres of Excellence. The startup has also been part of the winter 2016 program of IndieBio, the world’s largest seed biotech accelerator, run by SOSV.