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Novela Neurotech Seeks to Accelerate Neurological Treatments with Brain Decoding as a Service
CEO + Board Member
Shelly Fan, PhD.
Director of Communications & Alliances
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor
Published – June 1, 2020
CEOCFO: Mr. Iskander, what is the idea behind Novela Neurotech?
Mr. Iskander: Novela Neurotech is a spin off from a Canadian university, the University of Waterloo. We have a long track record of university research and development in what we call the field of neuromodulation, which is basically a way to alter brain functions through different modalities, such as using electricity to change the way brain cells communicate. Since 2007, we have been working on some of these modalities with the intention of treating neurological disorders. The first disorder that we are throwing our R&D weight behind is epilepsy.
Back in around 2015, we partnered with the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to develop a very promising treatment for epilepsy. The idea is to simply listen to the electric signals that are coming from the brain, which “sound” different before and during a seizure. From these signals we can try to anticipate a seizure before it happens. Once we decipher warning signals of an imminent seizure, we can then send a very timely electric zap to the brain that would instruct the brain to stop its oncoming seizure activity. That is the very simple idea. It is basically working with electric brain activities, trying to anticipate some events in the brain and trying to intercept them before these events happen.
CEOCFO: Why was epilepsy your first target?
Mr. Iskander: It is a well-
CEOCFO: How often would you test somebody with the Neureka™ Smart Medtech Platform?
Mr. Iskander: The Neureka™ Smart Medtech Platform is our central data engine. Think of it as a “smart” digital library, where it gathers clean brain recordings from multiple disorders in a very orderly manner. This makes the brain data easy to share among researchers, while also making the data readable using Artificial Intelligence (AI). Because brain recordings are rather complex, AI may help researchers better mine those data for insights into new treatments.
At this point, our Neureka™ Platform is used to accelerate the development of new treatments, so we are not directly working with patients ourselves. Instead, we are partnering with prominent research institutions, such as the University of California, San Francisco, to aid research experts who need these brain data to faster develop neuromodulation treatments. Not all brain data are created equal, and better quality data organized in user-
CEOCFO: What have you learned so far? What surprised you through your research?
Mr. Iskander: Our largest lesson at this point is that what we are doing today in epilepsy has applications in many other neurological disorders. First generation neuromodulation has already been applied in Parkinson’s disease, where it reads brain signals but needs human intervention to tailor the treatment stimulation. The same idea is now starting to be successfully applied in epilepsy, but we hope to take it a step further by automating treatment delivery. We already see how neuromodulation can help mental health indications, such as depression, opioid addictions and many, many other areas. Therefore, we are pretty upbeat about the work that we are doing at this point, because we see it is a key to unlock the future of neurological treatments.
CEOCFO: Do the people in the medical community that should be interested recognize what you are doing? Do they understand the value? Have similar processes been tried?
Mr. Iskander: Yes. Neuromodulation is now actually starting to be one of the areas of focus in general in the medical community. Many medical technology companies are already looking into what we are doing. In addition, even traditional pharmaceutical companies that were developing drugs are now starting to recognize that neuromodulation is a modality that can be very promising in the future. The ideas of neuromodulation and closed-
Consider a scenario in which there is a specific amount of drugs that can be released in the body of the patient, but that specific amount is always decided in real-
CEOCFO: What about addiction? Where does that come into play with your platform?
Mr. Iskander: Addiction is something we have started to look at last year. We have collaboration with a research team at a clinical hospital in Spain called the San Carlos Hospital. The team is currently using our platform to try to better understand and find a cure for addiction that uses closed loop neuromodulation therapy. Therefore, addiction is absolutely one of our research focuses. We have a three-
CEOCFO: Are you seeking funding, investment or grants? How are you doing all of this research?
Mr. Iskander: It is all of the above. We are working through a combination of grants, but we also have private funding. We have put together a private funding portfolio; however, we are continuously in a fundraising mode.
CEOCFO: Is it easy for a potential investor to understand or is it a little bit more difficult unless you are really knowledgeable? What do you find?
Mr. Iskander: That is a great question! We try to approach investors who better understand the field. It is very cutting-
Our very simple promise to investors is that with our platform, we can continuously accelerate the development and personalization of a new generation of brain disorder treatments. Specifically, we mean the closed loop neurological treatments based on neuromodulation that directly “taps into” the brain’s inner workings without medical drugs. Let us say, one of the very promising modalities for treating depression is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, TMS. It is not based on anti-
To further clarify, neuromodulation is an umbrella term for a set of technologies that directly change the brain’s electrical communication signals, very loosely like fixing broken circuits in a computer. We believe there are more and more of these digital treatments that do not rely on drugs that are coming in the future. But these treatments need a lot of brain signal data to develop. Through our platform, we can collect better data, more data, to validate potential treatments and to put them in the market much quicker. This is what we mean by “accelerate the development of these new brain treatments.”
CEOCFO: Your site shows, “Accelerated discovery, streamline clinical trials and reduced treatment delivery cost.” How are you working on all of those three to make it easier for everyone involved?
Mr. Iskander: In our minds all three go together, and all rely on more, better quality brain signal data. As mentioned above, neuromodulation treatments require lots of well-
Through our platform, we are putting together the idea of simplifying and automating the collection of data as much as possible, while allowing collaboration between different teams to more quickly research, test, and reach a treatment solution. Therefore, they all go hand in hand: the simplification of data collection, the convenience of data collection, the sharing and the collaboration makes everything much more cost effective and much quicker.
CEOCFO: What is ahead for the next year or so?
Mr. Iskander: In terms of technology for our platform, we are already there. We have the fundamentals. Now it is basically collecting data and more data and more data, to showcase the power of our platform in developing neurological treatments using brain signals. Specifically within epilepsy, we are currently developing new diagnostic and treatment tools, but the beauty of the platform is it’s the main “mastermind” behind the company. Because the main infrastructure is up, it is relatively straightforward for us to also work on the pipeline of mental health and addiction as well, while making sure that we deliver the promises of the platform. Altogether, we are very confident we have the technology pieces there. We are also getting multiple sources of data, as we speak right now, from our expert neuroscience collaborators. Now, it is basically taking the next step in transforming that data to deliver on the promises of neuromodulation-
CEOCFO: Why take a look at Novela Neurotech?
Mr. Iskander: Novela has taken a unique approach. We are not a “me too” company in the medical field. We are working very closely with world-
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“Novela has taken a unique approach. We are not a “me too” company in the medical field. We are working very closely with world-