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Novela Neurotech Seeks to Accelerate Neurological Treatments with Brain Decoding as a Service

Ray Iskander

CEO + Board Member

Novela Neurotech


Shelly Fan, PhD.

Director of Communications & Alliances


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

CEOCFO Magazine

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-known fact that pharmaceutical interventions don’t work properly for many brain dysfunctions. Take epilepsy: roughly 65 million around the globe live with the disorder, and nearly 30 percent, if not more, patients don’t respond to medication. Epilepsy lends itself very naturally to neuromodulation, because we are able to listen to brain signals and use sophisticated computer algorithms to identify seizures before they happen, and try to administer another electric signal that could stop the seizure in its track. Although this type of treatment could also work with other neurological disorders, such as depression and even addiction, there is much research behind epilepsy with promising initial results. Neuromodulation is still a rather new, state-of-the-art way to treat brain disorders. Therefore, epilepsy is an ideal starting point, both in terms of helping patients and to further develop technological infrastructure for this kind of brain therapy.

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-friendly ways is tantamount to finding solutions faster—similar to finding a book in a well-organized library. Therefore, with Neureka™ we are curating lots of brain recording data from existing and ongoing tests and trials in brains with or without epilepsy. We then help analyze that data to try to find the best way to both read brain activity for seizure signals and automatically deliver electrical treatments back to the brain. This is called a closed-loop treatment, and happens subconsciously so patients don’t have to remember taking a drug or pressing a button or injecting him or herself with any medication. To sum up, the idea there is trying to listen to what the brain is telling us about the conditions of different patients and then developing a treatment that responds to the condition of that specific patient in a very personalized manner. Neureka™ is our company’s core platform to help organize brain recording data to “read” the brain’s intentions and “write” into the brain.

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-loop treatment may even help apply drugs to patients. For example, doctors can first monitor for different biomarkers in the body of a patient that tells us about his or her condition before we administer any drugs to them. This way, drugs will only be given “on demand,” so to speak.

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-time before it is applied, depending on the conditions of the patients. For example, maybe the dosage of pain-killers will change depending on the level of pain that the patient is in, but rather than patients self-reporting, we measure nerve electrical signals that transmit the feeling of pain. This way drugs will be delivered in a way tailored to the specific patient, the specific condition, and the specific needs at a particular moment in time. That idea is very powerful, because it basically does not continuously give the same amount of drug every day, regardless of the patient’s conditions. That is also another area where we are actively working on: how can we make traditional pharmaceutical drugs very personalized to the condition of the patient?       

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-year collaboration agreement with the research team there, so we are still at a relatively early stage in the research, but we are very excited about early results. We are in the process of further collecting the data to develop this treatment.   

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-edge science. We find it easier to work with, maybe with medical practitioners as our first partners, a community that understands what we are doing. However, we also try to simplify the message because, to your point, it is not very simple. We especially want to stay away from any very specific technological details when we talk to investors. 

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-depressants. It basically uses a very non-invasive magnetic field around the head of the patient to change the electrical signaling of the brain, so that the patient feels less depressed. TMS is showing a lot of promise, but it’s just one example of neuromodulation.

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-organized and well-labeled data to develop, similar to how the first step to drug development is gathering high quality, organized data that can help answer a question: for example, does this brain signal predict seizure activity? Second, clinical trials also gather data. With the Neureka™ Platform, we can help link up multiple research groups and hospitals conducting trials so they can easily share their findings. Simultaneously, we are also working on wearables that could help researchers collect brain signal data from home, rather than sending them to treatment facilities or specialized centers to collect data, which would decrease the barrier to entry for clinical trials and make it easier to minimize human intervention and overall costs for clinical trials. Finally, if initial investment into clinical trials and R&D is lower, there’s a path forward for reducing treatment delivery costs for the benefit of the patient. 

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-based monitoring and therapies in multiple brain disorder areas.    

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-leading organizations that are already developing next-generation neuromodulation treatments for brain disorders. We are using our strengths in data automation collection and data sharing as a way to accelerate their bench-to-bedside translation; that is, propelling their “go to market” paths so their treatments more rapidly reaches patients. Therefore, we are not the traditional “me too” company that is developing yet another drug treatment that could either succeed or fail. We are engaged with multiple collaborators worldwide, and for each one of them, we deliver value by helping them deliver the treatments through better, faster and more abundant brain signal data collection, sharing, and collaboration as quickly as possible.

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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-leading organizations that are already developing next-generation neuromodulation treatments for brain disorders. We are using our strengths in data automation collection and data sharing as a way to accelerate their bench-to-bedside translation; that is, propelling their “go to market” paths so their treatments more rapidly reaches patients.” Ray Iskander