Melbourne medtech startup CNSDose is leading the way in genetically-guided dosing for the treatment of depression.
When Victorian local and Associate Professor Ajeet Singh first started practicing psychiatry, he rapidly realised that the treatment of depression with antidepressants was largely a trial-and-error process. This sparked an interest and further studies in pharmacogenetics; ultimately leading to the development of technology aimed at making the process of treating depression more precise.
CNSDose was founded by Associate Professor Singh and Dr Harris Eyre after meeting in 2015 at the Pivot Summit—a digital strategy conference in Victoria.
A year earlier, Eyre describes having an epiphany while on a Fulbright scholarship in the United States. He was aware that mental illness is hugely burdensome to individuals and societies, and realised that a number of technologies exist—such as genomics, virtual reality, microsensors and big data analytics—which could be employed to address the inadequacies in its diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
“There is a disconnect between ‘day to day’ clinical medicine, ‘day to day’ academic research, ‘day to day’ health system management and the need to develop new technologies,” says Eyre.
“We need people who speak the language and understand clinical medicine, research, health system management, technology, and commercialisation, and can converge these disciplines.”
Developing the technology
CNSDose has developed a genetic test which substantially reduces the guesswork involved in finding the right antidepressant for a particular patient. The test requires a simple and painless cheek swab which is analysed to produce information about the patient’s liver and brain genetics. This is used to guide the choice and dose of antidepressant.
Eyre explains: “Ajeet developed the technology based on his expert knowledge of the blood-brain barrier and liver. The goal is to improve patient outcomes, in terms of recovery and side effects, improve doctors’ prescribing abilities and save health systems money.”
The company also intends to develop the technology in the future to provide genetic guidance for other disorders such as ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease.
Gaining momentum and growth
The Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) played a vital role in the growth of the company. Last year, CNSDose raised A$1 million as a result of completing the program, which also provided access to investors and expert advisors. The startup has since evolved into a growth company with an impressive portfolio of business partners and early customers, and a board of directors that includes the former Trade Minister Hon Andrew Robb AO as Chairman.
Mixing it on the world stage
This year, the company was selected for TMCx, the four-month accelerator program run by the Texas Medical Centre. The TMC is the largest medical city globally with over 9000 beds across several facilities. The highly selective program provided invaluable access to doctors, hospitals and expert advice on managing the regulatory process in the US. CNSDose also recently secured a major contract with Intermountain Healthcare, a large, premier health system in the US.
The company plans to expand across Australia, Europe and Asia but will remain active in Victoria.
“It’s the hub of biomedicine and biotechnology in the Southern Hemisphere. So we have great science, great clinical support, great advisors and great investors. And lots of support from the federal and state governments,” says Eyre.
Eyre identifies the involvement of the numerous companies with international expertise and the willingness of the locals to offer support as factors that have made it easy to access mentoring and strategic guidance in Victoria. Eyre’s advice to others considering a medtech startup in Victoria is to tap into local networks.
“Don’t try to do it all yourself and reinvent the wheel. There are lots of people with lots of experience willing to help.”