What surprised you the most from the Judges’ questions and feedback during the Brainnovations Pitch Contest last month?
Even with only a brief presentation the judges immediately got the potential impact of our technology to measure and monitor brain health and began to think about other applications for us – several we had not thought about. That was fun.
In a nutshell, what is the core idea behind NeuraMetrix?
Typing Cadence is among the strongest habit we have. If the brain is attacked by a disease, the habit will begin to break – very slowly and in very small increments. Our way of measuring is so sensitive that we can pick up changes at the level of 1/100th of second – many orders of magnitude better than today’s tools.
When and how did the idea come to you?
Coming from data security, our first idea was to use typing cadence for authentication, and then were alerted to the brain health application by an outsider. When Bob Mahley (founder of the Gladstone Institute, and its president for 30 years) told me ‘you realize we have been looking for this for 30 years’, we were pretty sure that we had a winner and immediately pivoted.
What’s your vision for Brain Health in 2025 and how do you envision NeuraMetrix as part of it?
Many scientists we work with emphasize how little we know about CNS diseases. Thus, it may be appropriate to think a lot more about new and different ways to study these diseases and the possible compounds that may work, as described in the great WebMD story covering the SharpBrains Summit. We will provide critical fast feedback for drug trials and move the whole field to precision medicine.
How are you funding the company so far, and are you planning to raise funds this year?
To date we have relied on friends and family. We are now working on a larger raise — but still small by biotech standards, maybe $3M.
How do you/ will you validate that your solutions do what they are supposed to?
Our main application now is monitoring of brain diseases, so that doctors can receive very quick feedback on any changes relevant to disease management, particularly medication. We derive validation from measuring patients and working with doctors for a number of months in real-life settings.
First, we have just begun to collect data on depression, and it looks very promising. We have a number of great application leads for depression, and are hoping our technology can provide great help to sufferers of mood and psychiatric disorders.
Additionally, we are planning studies to test if our technology works well outside of CNS diseases, such as brain tumors, chemo brain and heart failure.
What are some key roadblocks ahead, and how are you planning to address them?
The largest roadblock coming up is to prove that our technology works for providing very early diagnostics – years earlier than today. This will require important innovations in methods. We know how to quickly prove whether it works for Alzheimer’s and will soon be working on Parkinson’s. A study just started will show whether our tool can detect that Huntington’s has begun, although the patient is not showing any symptoms.
If you could go back in time to, say, 5–10 years ago, what advice would you have liked to receive?
I should have much earlier focused on simple, elegant solutions to big problems. I did startups tackling very big problems, but the complexity of the solutions made raising capital and finding pilot customers very challenging.
Finally, if I may, what do you do to stay sharp 🙂
Puzzles and games – Sudoku, bridge and chess problems every day. NYT Sunday crossword puzzle every week. Play bridge – wish I did more of it. My brain seems to work on problems while I sleep – I often wake up and have a solution in my head to something from the day before.
Jan Samzelius, CEO & Co-Founder of NeuraMetrix, has specialized in quantitative methods for 40 years and invented the typing cadence technology central to the firm. He has previously led a large number of analytical projects, ranging from measuring customer satisfaction to price elasticities to conjoint analyses. He holds a BSc in economics from the Stockholm School of Economics, graduating with honors, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Thanks to his great pitch and answers during the 2017 SharpBrains Virtual Summit (slidedeck available below), NeuraMetrix was selected as the Top Brainnovation to Measure Brain Health.