Pfizer recently announced plans to conduct clinical trials of Akili Interactive Lab’s Project EVO, an app designed for iOS, to assess its effectiveness in detecting cognitive deficits in patients at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Project:EVO, developed by a team based at the University of California – San Francisco, is an app designed for iOS that using gaming with an aim to both assess and improve cognitive function with a specific focus on executive function. It is similar to a game designed by the same team called NeuroRacer that, in a recent clinical trial, appeared to help improve cognitive functioning in older adults through adaptative gaming.

While the notion of brain training has been the focus of much controversy of late, this clinical trial will focus on more narrow scope of application for the app – the detection of disease at early stages. Such a tool could be transformative in terms of how clinical trials, in this case of Alzheimer’s medications, are done.

For a moment, let’s assume that Project:EVO shows efficacy in detecting meaningful cognitive differences in patients that are ultimately predictive of progression from, say, a mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. A natural extension of that conclusion then would be that patients could be effectively screened remotely for enrollment in Pfizer’s next clinical trial of a drug to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The app could perhaps even be used to track changes in cognitive function on therapy. Both of these applications could have significant cost saving if they help replace in-person visits.

Since Project:EVO is generally directed at executive function, a similar strategy could be applied to many other mental illnesses. The ability to conduct mobile clinical trials has been an interest of Pfizer in the past. A few years back, Pfizer conducted the REMOTE study which used a variety of mobile tools in lieu of traditional methods in a clinical trial of Detrol.

Beyond the clinical trial realm, there could also be significant utility in population screening as well as the management of patients with known mental health issues. Perhaps a patient with a recent major depressive episode could be monitored effectively with such a game. Or perhaps elderly patients with “compensated” dementia could be identified earlier, thereby enabling family members to put systems in place to help protect their loved ones.

While questionnaires and surveys are often onerous and boring, a well-designed game can really hold one’s attention. Anyone who has spent 20 minutes chopping flying fruit on their smartphone knows that. Hopefully, games like Project:EVO can put that attribute to better use.

Source: Wall Street Cheat Sheet