Pfizer is launching a clinical study to assess the potential of Akili Interactive Labs’ Project EVO gaming platform as a biomarker or cognitive endpoint for people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Akili is a US-based company developing mobile video games as potential therapeutics for neurological disorders or as tools for remote monitoring of core cognition.

The Akili platform is designed to quantify and improve the ability of individuals to deal with cognitive interference affecting their ability to pay attention, plan or make decisions.

These deficits are common symptoms of a number of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as well as psychiatric conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and depression, Akili noted.

The company has an existing relationship with Shire Pharmaceuticals that involves the first clinical study of Project EVO in pediatric ADHD.

Important advance

“A tool that enables cognitive monitoring for the selection and assessment of clinical-trial patients has the potential to be an important advance in Alzheimer’s research and beyond,” commented Michael Ehlers, senior vice president and chief scientific officer in Pfizer’s Neuroscience Research Unit.

To its knowledge, Akili said, this is the first time a large pharmaceutical company will have evaluated a mobile video game as a clinical tool to determine early signs of neurodegenerative disease pathology.

Under the agreement, Pfizer will conduct a clinical trial in healthy elderly subjects whose brains show the presence or absence of amyloid (which may be an early marker of Alzheimer’s), as determined by Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging.

The expectation is that some 100 subjects will enrol for the trial, which will measure cognitive abilities at baseline and over the course of one month’s game play with Project EVO.

The objective is to evaluate Akili’s platform as a biomarker or clinical endpoint for potential use in future Alzheimer’s trials.

Rigorous science

“Our collaboration with Pfizer is an example of Akili’s strategy of applying rigorous science and testing through clinical trials to develop an entirely new class of medical products,” said Eric Elenko, the company’s co-founder and chief business officer.

Akili’s platform technology originated in the laboratory of Dr Adam Gazzaley at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Gazzaley is a co-founder and chief science advisor to Akili.

Over the last year, Akili has received around US$7 million in cash and non-dilutive funding equivalents, including the Pfizer collaboration and a direct investment from Shire Pharmaceuticals’ Strategic Investment group.

Project Evo is under evaluation in a number of other medical conditions where executive function is impaired, including depression (with the US National Institute of Mental Health) and autism.