If one were to objectively examine the topics being discussed in their social media feeds, that person might reach he conclusion that COVID-19 is all that’s going on in this world. It’s all anyone is talking about, and rightfully so. The effects of this pandemic on the human species will be discussed and analyzed for many years to come.
What is not being discussed enough, however, are the effects COVID is having on our mental health. Loneliness, anxiety, depression, hopelessness; these are just some of the emotions a global pandemic can, and are causing – and it’s important that we acknowledge it.
Taking a broader look at the issue, mental health or more specifically, how mental conditions are treated, is ripe for disruption.
If a person suffers from depression for example, something that is a lot more common than you might imagine, a psychiatrist would prescribe antidepressants to treat the depression, but how that person will react to that specific medication is a huge question mark.
From that moment on, everything is trial and error. Even worse is that the trial period in which the doctor and patient wait to see if the medication is effective can last weeks and even months.
This is the challenge an Israeli start-up called Taliaz, active since 2015, is trying to overcome. Neuroscientist Dr. Dekel Taliaz, together with his brother Oren, founded the company and gave it the siblings’ family name, Taliaz. Its mission is to empower doctors and patients with artificial intelligence to improve the assessment, management and prescribing success in mental health disorders. In other words, to support doctors to prescribe the right medication the first time and help minimize or remove today’s painful trial and error period.
Starting in the field of depression, Taliaz has developed PREDICTIX, a decision support software, that can help psychiatrists and general practitioners rapidly assess, effectively manage and accurately prescribe the right treatment sooner to their patients. Using Taliaz’s management software, doctors receive a personalized patient report that ranks antidepressants by their predicted therapeutic effect with the least side effects for each patient.
Dekel Taliaz, the company’s CEO, holds a PhD in neuroscience from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He has published numerous, highly-cited papers in the field of psychiatric disorders and gene expression in leading peer-reviewed medical journals. He founded Taliaz upon discovering that while there has been tremendous advances in DNA sequencing and computer technologies, the huge value from the vast amounts of genetic and clinical information available today is not properly leveraged in clinical practice.
“We founded Taliaz, as clinical practices did not have the tools to leverage the tremendous advances in genomic sequencing and deep learning in mental health care. By combining deep data analytics with science, PREDICTIX learns from the intricate and changing relationships between our brain and our real-world experience that shapes our mental health,” said Dekel. “Packaged for physicians and patients in an easy-to-use and straightforward way, we turn complex technology into real-world practical products to optimize treatment.”
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people of all ages.
At its worst, clinical depression can lead to suicide, which has become the second leading cause of death in 15-to-29 year olds. Depression-related annual costs were estimated at $1 trillion worldwide. That total includes direct medical costs and indirect costs such as workplace absenteeism.
Taliaz’s proprietary algorithms, when provided with the right data such as DNA swabs for genetic data; a detailed mental-health history; information on the patient’s environment and demographic background; can predict the efficacy (as well as any adverse effects) of current antidepressants with 72% accuracy. For context, today, the right antidepressant is only prescribed in 49% of cases, with approximately two-thirds of patients failing to get better following the first antidepressant prescribed and another one-third quitting their first-line of treatment entirely.
The company has launched two commercial products, PREDICTIX Digital Antidepressant and PREDICTIX Genetics Antidepressant.
PREDICTIX Digital Antidepressant is a complete software solution that supports doctors to validate prescribing decisions instantly during a patient’s first visit with 64% accuracy, following the completion of a proprietary short background questionnaire.
PREDICTIX Genetics Antidepressant further supports doctors to optimize treatment decisions by combining a patient’s DNA analysis with this AI technology to achieve 72% prescribing accuracy.
PREDICTIX has been successfully implemented in Psychiatry UK (PUK), the UK’s leading online psychiatry service, to expand their telehealth service. Combined with their online video consultations, PUK psychiatrists leverage the PREDICTIX software to support treatment decisions.
Taliaz is currently partnering with telemedicine services, payers and healthcare providers across Europe and Australia. The company is also conducting additional clinical studies with leading healthcare organizations to further optimize its prediction algorithm and show cost benefits, including Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in France and Maccabi Healthcare Services in Israel.
As far as funding, Taliaz received its initial capital injection of $20,000 from the Israel Innovation Authority. Since then, PREDICTIX has received five additional grants, including two from the European Union’s Horizon 20/20 scientific research program including a €2.5 million research grant from the European Innovation Council. Additional funding came from the Health Ministry, which gave Taliaz $670,000 to begin its implementation with Maccabi, and Taliaz is now in the process of raising Series A funding.
With an award-winning technology, including winning France’s 2020 Brain Congress Startup Competition, the importance of what Taliaz has set out to do cannot be overstated. The last thing someone suffering from depression needs is to feel like a guinea pig with no end in sight. If psychiatrists are able to prescribe a treatment with over a 70% chance of success, that can, in many instances, be the difference between life and death.
Additionally, as the world continues to battle this COVID pandemic, any company that raises awareness for mental health and as a result helps to de-stigmatize mental illness is a company that is truly making the world a better place.
This past Saturday was World Mental Health Day, and to mark it, the International Committee of the Red Cross conducted a survey of 3,500 people. The results indicated that just over half of the population say that the global crisis is affecting their mental health.
“The COVID-19 health crisis has exacerbated the psychological distress of millions of people already living through conflicts and disasters. Lockdown restrictions, a loss of social interaction, and economic pressures are all impacting people’s mental health and access to care,” ICRC’s director-general, Robert Mardini, said in a statement.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health, especially in crisis situations, when mental health needs are especially critical,” he added.
According to the World Health Organization, close to one billion people worldwide have a mental disorder that includes depression as a primary symptom.
Taliaz’s mission is critical to the advancement of mental health and the emotional well-being of hundreds of millions of people around the world.