What is NeuroTech? Four key elements to define a new space between neuroscience and technology

Thibaud Guymard, General Manager of Digital Measurement Solutions at Biogen Digital Health, describes four elements to define NeuroTech, a new space between neuroscience and technology.


 

 

At Biogen Digital Health, we aspire to transform patients’ lives and Biogen by making personalized and digital medicine in neuroscience a reality. The term ‘NeuroTech’ emerged as we witnessed a growing industry bringing together players of all sizes, but with an especially strong representation of emerging startups, that is at the crossroads between neuroscience and technology.

Thibaud Guymard, General Manager of Digital Measurement Solutions at Biogen Digital Health

1. What is NeuroTech?

Without any official definition to refer to yet, I will attempt to define this new space. I am thinking of the growing space of digital innovation within the field of neuroscience. It is a space that is largely made up of startups who are drastically disrupting the field through people, concepts, technologies, solutions, and approaches, to solve unmet needs of patients suffering from neurological diseases, and healthcare professionals (HCPs) in neuroscience. As it matures, this space has the hopes of becoming an industry able to deliver and scale new scientifically-validated digital solutions with measurable outcomes for patients: NeuroTech.

NeuroTech is an emerging industry at the crossroads between neuroscience and technology, bringing new applications, processes, products, services or business models aimed at delivering scalable solutions that benefit people living with neurological diseases, healthcare professionals, researchers, and payers.

A definition proposed by Thibaud Guymard, General Manager, Biogen Digital Health Measurement Solutions

 

2. Where does NeuroTech stand within HealthTech?

As part of HealthTech, NeuroTech emerged from a group of startups that focused or adapted their research and solutions to neuroscience specificities and needs. NeuroTech can also be defined as a neuroscience-focused branch of HealthTech, where players attempt to solve the customer journey challenges of people living with neurological diseases and HCPs.

Based on my experience connecting with various NeuroTech startups, it has been interesting to see that some are originally driven by science and/or customer needs (patients and HCPs mainly) and have identified technologies as new opportunities to find novel solutions. Others, however, come from the tech world, and they put the advantages of their technology first, to solve existing neuroscience challenges.

 

3. What are NeuroTech’s main focus areas?

When attempting to list the focus areas of NeuroTech startups, it can be challenging as there exist different angles and ways to categorize, from generic to highly detailed, sometimes even going beyond what we could think of as NeuroTech.

Below is what I would consider being NeuroTech startups’ main focus areas today:

Assessment & Diagnostics

  • Cognitive Assessment: Startups focusing on building or delivering access to Digital Neurocognitive testing that utilizes a computer, digital tablet, handheld device, or other digital interfaces instead of a human examiner to administer, score, or interpret tests of brain function and related factors relevant to questions of neurologic health and illness.
  • Cognitive Stimulation and Rehabilitation: Digital Cognitive rehabilitation startups have the objective of compensating or improving cognitive deficit originated by lesions or illnesses that affect the optimal functionality of the brain through a digital solution. Cognitive stimulation such as cognitive training, which has the objective of improving and potentializing cognitive functions and capabilities that are still preserved through digitally delivered activities. Digital Therapeutics startups are currently trying to leverage digital technologies to support those goals.
  • Diagnostics: Startups that focus on technology that will make it possible to deliver a remote diagnosis of neurological diseases. Even if the patient is at home and if the doctor is in a distant clinic, this technology will allow the proper diagnosis of a neurological abnormality or disease.

 

Monitoring & Evidence Generation

  • Monitoring: Startups that focus on leveraging remote‐monitoring sensors, wearable devices, and mHealth (mobile health—the use of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, in medical care) applications, and how these might be leveraged in large‐scale clinical trials and patient monitoring beyond marketing approval of neurological diseases.
  • Imaging: Focused startups that develop solutions that support rapid and accurate image analysis with machine learning and artificial intelligence built-in for people living or not with neurological diseases.

 

Interventional & Treatment

  • Neurofeedback: Neurofeedback focused startups, also called Neurotherapy or neurobiofeedback, is a type of biofeedback that uses real-time displays of brain activity through a digital device—most commonly electroencephalography (EEG)—in an attempt to teach self-regulation of brain function.
  • Neurorehabilitation: Digital Rehabilitation therapy comprising stepwise training, and focuses on providing stimulation for neurons in the brain such that the brain remains active and forms neuroplasticity.
  • Neuroprosthetics: These startups are developing assistive devices that restore functions lost as a result of neural damage. Neuroprosthetics electrically stimulate nerves and are either external or implanted devices. Surface stimulators for muscle exercise are now commonplace in rehabilitation clinics and many homes.
  • Neuromodulation: Startups that focus on technology that acts directly on nerves. It is the alteration—or modulation—of nerve activity by delivering electrical or pharmaceutical agents directly to a target area supported by a digital solution.

 

Future Areas

  • Brain-Computer Interface: Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) startups acquire brain signals, analyze them, and translate them into commands that are relayed to output devices that carry out desired actions. The main goal of BCI is to replace or restore useful function to people disabled by neuromuscular disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cerebral palsy, stroke, or spinal cord injury. While being futuristic this area is evolving quickly: as an example, Elon Musk Neuralink startup focused on BCI since 2016, shared in 2020 progress on a potential product that could cure depression and addiction.

While some of these NeuroTech startups’ focus areas are mature, others are still lacking scientific evidence or approved solutions, but are showing promising early results.

 

4. NeuroTech startups: who are they?

NeuroTech is evolving particularly rapidly and staying up-to-date with the latest developments in the field can be challenging. While at BHS we continue to connect with new and emerging startups and are building an ever-growing network, I find it useful to share an interesting resource available online that has put together an updated but non-exhaustive list of international NeuroTech startups.

NeuroTech startups ecosystem illustration, including non-exhaustive groups of startups from Digital Health but also Biotech and Medtech proposed by Neurotech Analytics.

I look forward to bringing the definition of NeuroTech to the next level together, in the hopes of expanding its usage and, ultimately, accelerating #neurotech.