When a person is diagnosed with depression, pinpointing the right treatment is typically a trial-and-error process that frustrates both doctors and patients. Chronic symptoms interrupt everyday life while the patient seeks an effective remedy.
To address this challenge, NeuroMap, an early-stage company, is developing assays using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to accurately predict how individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) will respond on a personal level to medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.
“Some will have to go for months or years to find the right drug, and that’s what we’re trying to eliminate,” says Sanford-Burnham’s Dr. Alexey Terskikh, who founded NeuroMap with Dr. Dmitriy Sivtsov, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, computer scientist Dr. Andrew Rabinovich and Daniel Norton of UCSD’s Rady School of Management.
This novel concept – personalized depression therapeutics based on Sanford-Burnham technology – is what catapulted NeuroMap to win first prize earlier this month at the 5th Annual UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge’s Business Plan Competition, one of three contests the organization holds each year. The competition was judged by professionals from San Diego’s technology and entrepreneurial communities and presented before a public audience. The honor also awarded the startup company $57,000 in cash and entrepreneurial services, which Dr. Terskikh says will help move the company forward with its efforts to secure funding from government and private sources.
By guiding doctors toward the right antidepressant the first time, NeuroMap estimates patients and their insurance providers will save more than $2,500 per patient each year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 30 percent of patients with major depression have no further symptoms after their first trial with antidepressants. The majority try multiple rounds until the right medication (if any) is found, a trial-and-error process that usually takes four to six months. Initially, NeuroMap’s model will provide testing services that generate patient-specific results within six to eight weeks.
“With the advent of affordable genomic sequencing machines just around the corner, patient-specific results will be generated within hours,” Dr. Terskikh says. “Eventually, this methodology will be developed further with applications in other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, thus reducing the economic burden of mental illnesses even further.”
Read more about NeuroMap and the award in the San Diego Union-Tribune: Biotech startups use contests as springboards