Dec 05th 2017

Can you prescribe a video game?

Akili Interactive is pushing what qualifies as medicine with treatments delivered through a video game. This Monday, they released the findings from their latest study. With this, things keep looking up for the digital therapeutic company as they build their case for FDA approval.

Akili Interactive was testing a treatment for ADHD they labeled as AKL-101. The study had 348 children and adolescents participating at 20 different sites with a randomized control. The study lasted for four weeks of treatment with their video game, and the control was given a video game that had similar levels of engagement and the expectation of benefits. AKL-101 was found to vastly improve their Attention Performance Index based on the T.O.V.A. ®, an FDA approved ADHD test.

Although, there were 11 children who reported negative side effects that were “primarily headache and frustration.” One patient did stop taking the treatment because of the side effects. This is a vast improvement over traditional ADHD medication which, according to the Child Mind Institute, can have side effects like sleep problems, delayed growth, headaches, stomachaches, tics, moodiness, and irritability. Akili Interactive’s video game delivered treatment is a vast improvement over traditional medication in this area, and it is one of the reasons many people are looking towards digital therapeutics.

The idea behind Akili’s video game delivered treatment isn’t simply to entertain or help distract ADHD sufferers. It uses complex algorithms that adjust themselves as needed as the game is played so that the treatment is as effective as possible. This makes sure that the game/treatment engages the part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that is important for cognitive control, and commonly deficient in people with ADHD.

It was also important for them to see that another engaging game didn’t help nearly as much as AKL-101. This is explained by the principal investigator for the study, Dr. Scott Kollins (professor of psychiatry and director of the ADHD program at Duke University School of Medicine) who said, “Since the active control group in this study also played an engaging video game, we are encouraged that the statistically significant group differences were driven by the therapeutically active component in AKL-T01 and not just the video game experience.”

Akili is also working on treatments for depression, autism, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. All their treatments are based around “Akili’s proprietary, patented Project: EVO™ technology platform that enables selective targeting and activation of specific cognitive neural systems in the brain that exhibit deficiencies from various medical conditions.” They are also seeking FDA approval and classification as a medication for their products before allowing them to be used as treatment. This is even with the fact that digital therapeutics don’t need FDA approval to be used since they are low-risk treatment. Although, Akili is trying to legitimize treatments like this, and even helped found the Digital Therapeutics Alliance.
Akili is showing that video games are a force for good. They show that game can have a very positive impact in society, and a broader use than just enjoyment. Some games may be trying to do nothing more than milk as much money out of the player as possible, but there are plenty out there working to do good. Do you think treatments like this will become more widespread over the years, or is this just a one-time exception? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and can be reached on Twitter @spencerhavens.