Most of us have stories about how video games helped us through difficult times. Studios have also made any number of games designed to help people with mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. But while players might find games like Flowy or Nevermind helpful anecdotally or in internal trials, they’re a long, expensive way from receiving approval as digital treatments.
Akili Interactive is aiming to be the company that takes that next, big step. Over the last two years, it’s been trialing variations of Project EVO, its cognitive training technology for use as a novel treatment for ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, multiple sclerosis, major depressive disorder, and an assortment of other issues.
By all appearances, Project EVO is a video game. That’s a vital part of Akili’s plan. By making a treatment that looks and feels like a proper game, complete with compelling mechanics, art, music, storytelling and reward cycles, Akili believes it can keep patients engaged and immersed in their treatments. Compliance is one of the trickiest things in many mental health treatments — patients lose interest, develop doubts about efficacy, or simply fall out of the habit of going to therapy, completing the steps of their treatment, or taking their pills. If Project EVO can lower the bar to compliance by making the treatment intrinsically rewarding, it could be revolutionary.
That’s a big if, but according to Akili, initial results are very promising. Its lead product, AKL-T01 (built on the Project EVO framework), just finished a randomized, controlled trial of 348 children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD. Compared to an active control that was also tasked with playing an engaging video game, the group using AKL-T01 showed a statistically significant improvement on the T.O.V.A, a measure of sustained attention and inhibitory control.
“This innovative study represents, to my knowledge, the largest and most rigorous evaluation of a digital medicine,” said Dr. Scott Kollins, professor of psychiatry and director of the ADHD program at Duke University School of Medicine. “The objective improvements of attention observed in the study suggest that AKL-T01 addresses a key deficiency in ADHD that is not directly targeted by standard treatments.”
In pilot studies, Project Evo has also been shown to have benefits for people with moderate, late-life depression. It’s currently undergoing Phase II clinical testing with the aim of receiving FDA approval as an adjunct therapy to antidepressants for adults. Akili is also working with the ASD community to build on AKL-T01’s sensory and motor stimuli to serve ASD patients.
If Akili can secure FDA approval, prescription video games will be just around the corner.