Akili CEO Martucci sees ‘massive’ need for company’s ADHD video-game treatment

Akili Interactive, a maker of video-game-based treatments for young people with ADHD and other behavioral indications, made its public debut to a turbulent stock market last week. The company’s shares, which opened at $36, fell below $4 Monday in early trading.

Akili merged with a special purpose acquisition company created by former Facebook executive Chamath PalihapitiyaCombined with Akili’s cash on hand, funds from the deal will give the Akili two years of runway, not including revenue, according to the company.

Akili CEO Eddie Martucci said the company’s early focus isn’t so much on its stock price, but on raising funds to commercialize its first product, a game called EndeavorRx that is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to improve attention in kids with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It’s downloaded as an app for a smartphone or tablet, and involves navigating a spaceship through different levels while collecting targets and avoiding obstacles.

EndeavorRX is part of a broader class of products called digital therapeutics, or software-based treatments that are sometimes prescribed by a physician.

Despite advances in technology and clinical validation, the sector hasn’t had “as rapid or clear of a glide path in terms of the go-to-market,” said Megan Zweig, COO of Rock Health, which advises and invests in digital health companies. “There’s still a lot of outstanding questions around how these solutions are going to be paid for, how they’re ultimately going to get in the hands of consumers, and be prescribed by physicians… and also how they’re going to get the real world evidence that I think they will ultimately need to secure reimbursement.”

Figuring out the reimbursement piece is a key next step for Akili and its peers as they look to market their first prescription therapeutics.

Martucci and Matt Franklin, Akili’s new COO, talked about how the company is preparing a full-scale launch of EndeavorRx later this year while navigating a challenging market. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

MEDTECH DIVE: It’s a challenging market — why go public now? 

EDDIE MARTUCCI: We’ve said all along that we want to get the business to a proving point, meaning we have a product that can be prescribed by a doctor, has been cleared by the FDA, has gone through all the clinical evaluation, and that we’ve built enough of the initial infrastructure that we believe we can scale. We’ve done that. 

What’s also happened though, is the last two years of COVID has dramatically increased the need. The need was already massive — that’s why we started the company. But it’s gotten much worse, especially in our markets. We’re talking about children, teens with cognitive issues, the lack of services, the pullback of services in this market has been massive. And frankly, there’s been exploitation of some of the existing therapeutic options like drugs. You’ve seen telehealth [companies] come under fire for this. So I think patients are in more need [of our product] than ever before. 

And it’s the right time in our company that we want to scale. So that’s why this was the moment for us to be a public company. The market environment is really neither here nor there, frankly. It’s really about accessing capital and having the flexibility to grow a pretty bold vision. 

A young person works with Akili’s app-based treatment for ADHD.

Permission granted by Akili Interactive

 

How did you decide on a merger with a SPAC versus a traditional IPO? 

MARTUCCI: Last year, we looked at the various ways one could become public. We really liked the SPAC for two easy reasons. First: the amount of capital is generally larger than you can take in at an IPO and that bore itself out here. Even in a tough market, to be able to have over $160 million come in through the deal is large, so it funds our vision for a few years. 

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