BlackThorn Therapeutics Raises $76M to Personalise Medicine for Mental Disorders

The AI-based startup utilises a groundbreaking approach to take the 'one size fits all' tendency out of psychiatric care.

25.06.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Simone van der Koelen on Unsplash
Photo by Simone van der Koelen on Unsplash

The National Health Service reported that over 70 million prescriptions for antidepressants alone were prescribed in England last year. According to a Scientific American study from 2016, more than one in six US adults takes a psychiatric drug. However, most mental disorders are treated based on symptoms instead of the patient’s underlying biology. BlackThorn Therapeutics wants to change that.

The AI-based neurobehavioural health startup is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to personalise psychiatric medication.

“Making personalised medicine for mental health a reality requires the ability to gather, integrate and analyse a wide variety of data at scale,” said Paul Berns, executive chair of BlackThorn and a venture partner at ARCH Venture Partners, in a press release.

“BlackThorn has positioned itself at the forefront of these efforts by building the largest library of deeply phenotyped clinical neurobiological data and a cloud-based platform powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) to inform rational, targeted drug discovery and development.”

Scott Forrest, BlackThorn’s vice-president of corporate development, explained that the company focuses on “linking brain physiology to behavior” in its research. By combining imaging tools and behavioral evaluation techniques, the startup aims to find the biomarkers that are important in neurobehavioural diseases and determine which subsets of patients might best respond to its drugs,

By identifying and understanding these patient groups more effectively, BlackThorn can design targeted drugs to affect specific behaviours. As a result, the company can run smaller, more efficient clinical trials with a higher chance of success.

“You wouldn’t take all comers who have cancer [in a cancer drug trial],” Scott Forrest, BlackThorn’s VP of corporate development, told Xconomy in 2016. “You would segment [them] by the biology in some way. It’s similar here.

“Unless you learn about the patients and do so in a way that allows you to target the right treatments to those patients, you’re basically consigning yourself to the track record of the past in this field, which we all know has had significant challenges.”

In June 2019, BlackThorn raised $76 million in Series B funding from 10 investment and research institutions, including Google Ventures, Scripps Research, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, ARCH Venture Partners and Biomatics Capital.

“BlackThorn was founded to bring new therapies to patients by applying advances in computational sciences to address patient heterogeneity, one of the biggest historical challenges in the field of neuropsychiatric drug development,” said Bill Martin, BlackThorn’s president and chief operating officer.

“Three years later, insights from our data-driven approaches are yielding patient enrichment strategies that could increase probability of clinical trial success and improve patient outcomes. We are grateful for our investors’ support to continue advancing our platform and therapeutic pipeline as we build out a world-class team at the intersection of technology and clinical neuroscience.”

The funds will be used to further its clinical-stage programmes for mood disorders and work towards a potential treatment for autism spectrum disorder.

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