Photo: The NeuroQore team (Mehran on far left).
Depression is a major burden in many people’s lives who we know. Some of the treatments that are prescribed, like medication, are not always effective or without major side effects. Drug-resistant depression is sometimes treated with electroshock therapy, which is risky, despite being the gold standard. In comes NeuroQore, a new device that aims to treat depression by sending magnetic pulses to a small region of the brain, which is safer than electroshock therapy. We asked NeuroQore’s CEO, Mehran Talebinejad, a few questions:
Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?
As a teenager I was fascinated with brain machine interfaces (BMI) and mind uploading. This drove me to study Biomedical Engineering and go towards neural prosthetics and brain surgery. Fast forward 10 years after getting into the university, and I did my first brain surgery. During this surgery I realized the brain is so extremely complex, and machine BMIs have a long long way to go before being publicly available. I also realized non-invasive brain tools and neuromodulation is super important since we don’t have easy access to the brain while the skull is blocking us!
So how did you try to turn that complexity into something practical you could work on?
Among non-invasive approaches to brain stimulation or neuromodulation there are only two very promising approaches: the first is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or electroshock therapy. This is the gold standard for treatment of drug-resistant depression. The second is the magnetic brain stimulation or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which emulates ECT in smaller brain regions without convulsion. ECT requires hospitalization, anesthesia, and has severe cognitive side effects (memory loss) and a risk of death. Less than 1% of patients are willing to endure ECT! On the other hand, rTMS is outpatient, has no systemic side effects and is widely accepted by patients. I saw the potential of rTMS and I had a vision to make it more accessible and more effective for treatment of drug-resistant depression and a range of other brain disorders (psychiatric and neurological).
What problem are you working to solve with your company, NeuroQore?
TMS is a platform tech with a range of applications, but we are focused on drug-resistant depression at this time. Over 16M patients are diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) every year in the US, and more than 4M remain drug-resistant. Which means they do not get satisfactory results from drugs in the first line of therapy. There is an option for them to do ECT, but as I mentioned less than 1% willing to endure ECT (still over 100,000 patients/year). So there is a large unmet need, or I would say crisis, for drug-resistant depression. Depression is among few disorders in medicine where a patient says “I rather die than have this”! NeuroQore is set to make TMS accessible and more effective as an alternative option to ECT.
If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?
The indicator is being able to execute on my own vision and feeling satisfied after seeing patients getting into remission. Patients bring us all types gifts and flowers in the last sessions of their treatment, and almost all of them have been super satisfied, which is very fulfilling for me.
How do you think success can change your industry?
NeuroQore is set to change mental health care and psychiatry as we know it, a condition that has been relatively unchanged since the 1960s. Patients with depression will be able to go to our centers (i.e. the “Apple Store for Depression”), monitor their depression with physical evidence (biomarkers not just anecdotal questioners), and finally get effective outpatient treatment! Today mental health care and psychiatry both suck, it is literally depressing to get depression treatment.
How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?
We have a great multi-disciplinary team and have been working together for over a decade. My academic background is in biomedical engineering, neuroscience, and technology management. I was selected as a rising star CEO by Invest Ottawa and I have been recognized and awarded many times for my work at NeuroQore as a co-founder and CEO.
Adrian is my co-inventor and co-founder, and has been working with me for over 14 years. He is an award winning expert in scientific research and development, with academic background in electrical and biomedical engineering specialized in non-invasive approaches.
Jonathan is a pioneering rTMS clinician/psychiatrist. He is very well known and well respected in the psychiatry society, and has had amazing contributions to improve clinical rTMS for depression treatment. He has experienced over 2,000 patients in his practice to date.
Brittany is an angel, she is our anticipatory patient service expert, with an academic background in psychology and mental health neuroscience. Her role is crucial in patient experience, which is very important for mental health. She is helping us change mental health care as we know it with her innovative service approach.
Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?
Life can be very exciting and fulfilling, but as an entrepreneur I must be ready for anything above and beyond what I know and have learned. I must be ready to learn on the fly and adapt to new situations.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?
Educating the government, the public, and clinicians about rTMS and non-drug depression treatment… and removing the stigma of depression.
What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?
In 2017 we will have four centers operational/active in California (SF, LA, Oakland, and Long Beach), and in the long term we are planning to repeat this model across the US with over 100 centers in the next three years.
Learn more about NeuroQore by watching Mehran pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!