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While the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in many ways, it also did a good thing: making the importance of mental health visible . Several specialists agree that, after the virus, the next pandemic will be mental illness .
In this scenario, the Mexican startup Actipulse Neuroscience could be key to serving the growing number of patients with disorders such as depression and anxiety , to mention the most common, since it offers 90% cheaper psychiatric treatment , which is also very profitable for patients. medical and accessible to patients.
Actipulse also has a presence in Boston, Chile and 8 countries in Latin America, and manages a business model that is as comprehensive as it is attractive for investors . The company conducts clinical research to design and manufacture its innovative Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) medical equipment. It then distributes them to psychiatrists, neurologists, doctors and therapists, and also links patients to the closest specialist who has the device.
Given the wave of psychiatric pathologies that the pandemic has left, Actipulse’s potential is very promising. So much so that even Randi Zuckerberg , Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, decided to become his new investor through crowfounding Republic , where the startup has an active campaign to raise capital and take its creation to the United States and the world.
How was Actipulse born?
In an interview for Entrepreneur en Español , the French entrepreneur Adrién Chatillôn and the Mexican doctor Gabriel Villafuerte related how they joined forces to democratize mental health by making Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation more accessible, a treatment that, although it has existed for more than 30 years, has status restricted to a very limited number of high-income patients in urban areas.
“We founded Actipulse in 2017 here in Mexico. We are a neurotechnology company specialized in non-invasive brain stimulation to treat psychiatric and neurological pathologies ” , said Adrién Chatillôn , CEO of Actipulse .
“What makes us different is that our main objective is to bring this technology everywhere, to all patients, regardless of their geographic location or economic condition,” complements Gabriel Villafuerte , surgeon from UNAM with a doctorate in Neurosciences and director of Actipulse Medical Research .
Adrién says that the idea began in 2016 at the initiative of his father, the original inventor of the device that Actipulse has improved over time.
“I was living in Luxembourg, I had already created two other companies in Euopa and I was very focused on FinTech. But I wanted to help people and for my third company to have a social side , to help people and leave a mark on society ” , says the 32-year-old entrepreneur. “When my father introduced me to the idea of this technology and the innovation he had made, it was excellent, because I could democratize access and I said ‘this is going to be my next project to help a lot of people.’ And we created Actipulse ” , he continues.
Father and son decided to establish the company in Mexico, in a country where they had already lived and they love it. “Mexico is generating a market for health and technology startups, because it has everything to do it: doctors, researchers, scientists, designers, engineers … When you have a project and you can bring all those people together, very interesting things come out ,” he added.
Here they met Gabriel, who was studying for a PhD in Neurosciences with a special focus on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation .
“The first contact was very random, I was finishing my doctorate, I did my research in neurodegenerative diseases, especially Parkinson’s. Looking about the EMT I found Adrién on LinkedIn, I contacted him and he told me about the project. A few beers later we were already partners ” , recalls the 28-year-old surgeon.
Villafuerte joined the company in the medical and scientific part, while Adrién focused on the business part. “We always say that I am the heart of the company and Gabriel the brain,” said the Frenchman.
What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a procedure used to treat different psychiatric and neurological pathologies through electromagnetic impulses applied to specific areas of the brain. It is approved by Cofepris in Mexico and, since 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave it the green light for the treatment of drug-resistant depression , where it has shown excellent results.
“We take a technology that has been around for a long time and improve it. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation has been available in the United States and Europe since 1985, but practically not in Mexico ” , explains Villafuerte.
The doctor explains that neurons work through electricity, “they turn on and off.” Then, by means of a coil that generates a magnetic field that “rises and falls rapidly”, they manage to modify the electrical activity of the brain and, therefore, the disease. “It is important to say that it is not a constant magnetic field, that is, they are not magnets, there is this confusion,” he clarifies.
In 2018, the FDA approved TMS as a treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and in 2020 for smoking cessation . “It is a technology that is growing a lot because it is an option for patients who do not have a good response to drugs,” said Chatillôn.
Such are the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation equipment created by Actipulse. Image courtesy of Actipulse.
Since its inception, the equipment to apply this therapy has been enormous, difficult to operate and very expensive. A traditional Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation machine would occupy an entire room, it can only be operated by the regular doctor after training for six months and its cost is around 2.5 million Mexican pesos . In addition, it is very uncomfortable for the patient, who must put on a heavy metal helmet and remain still during the session.
In contrast, the founders of Actipulse designed EMT gear that requires no more than a couple of square meters, and instead of the helmet, the coil created by the engineering team is held up by a lightweight velcro-covered headband. Another advantage is that the device and the operating system are very intuitive, so it can be operated by both the doctor and his assistants, practitioners or nurses. Regarding the cost, Adrién and Gabriel managed to reduce it more than 90% to 235,000 Mexican pesos .
How does Actipulse apply Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy?
Once Actipulse connects the patient with a doctor, he or she performs an evaluation to determine if they are a candidate for TMS . If so, he explains the therapy and prescribes a number of sessions based on the diagnosis.
“The patient goes to the office, puts on a treatment cap that has a coil and is connected to the equipment from which the type of stimulation is programmed. The session lasts an average of 45 minutes, it is not invasive, it does not require surgery, drugs or hospitalization ” , explained the French entrepreneur.
The patient has to go daily to take his stimulation sessions to the office, clinic or hospital, to reach remission. “We do not say heal, because psychiatric disorders such as depression can always return, but let’s say they can be put on hold,” Villafuerte clarifies.
How much does Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation cost?
Typically, an EMT therapy consists of 15 to 30 sessions , at the discretion of the physician. In the United States , every session It has an average cost of 400 dollars (about 8,000 Mexican pesos) . Therefore, a round of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation would cost between 6,000 and 12,000 dollars (120,000 to 240,000 Mexican pesos) , and sometimes more. “That is what they are also charging here in Latin America and it is impossible, it is something accessible only to a minimum percentage of the population,” stressed the CEO of the startup.
On average, doctors associated with Actipulse charge 1,000 Mexican pesos for each session, making a round of EMT cost between 15,000 and 30,000 pesos .
Although it may still seem expensive, “in reality it is not if you compare it with what a person who does not respond to drugs spends and can spend 6 months to a year trying drugs that cost up to more than 1,500 pesos a month. In the end, when you compare how much the drug treatment cost without giving positive results, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is cheaper and requires less time ” , stated the doctor and researcher from UNAM.
“The most important thing is that we can treat as many people as possible. We have already treated 10,000 patients with depression in these 4 years and the goal that inspires us all is that by 2025 we help 100,000 patients in Latin America ” , added Adrién.
The business model that makes mental health more accessible
Actipulse was initially stuck in the stage of selling the device to doctors, but to achieve their goal they needed to make the equipment even more accessible and help them connect with patients.
Now, the company offers a business model in which for 50,000 Mexican pesos , the doctor can have a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation device under concession, as well as training to use it, insurance , shipping , access to the platform to operate it and referred patients .
The contract is for one year and during this period the total income from the sessions is divided 50/50 between Actipulse and the doctor. Upon completion, the specialist will have the option of definitively purchasing the device.
“The stimulator’s operating system is connected to a platform with access to the cloud. Then all the devices are controlled from a single control panel. We know how many times the doctor uses it and with that income is controlled ” , they explain.
The creators affirm that a doctor bills an average of 60 to 65 thousand pesos per month with the EMT , therefore, “in two months it already covered the cost of the initial investment .” In addition, a psychiatrist or neurologist can only give about 8 consultations a day on average, if they charge each consultation at 1,000 pesos, their income limit is 8,000 pesos in one day. With stimulation, “they can have one patient in the office and another in the EMT room, and so they raise their profit limit .”
This business model , which they implemented since November 2020, has now allowed Actipulse to have more than 230 psychiatrists associated with a working device.
“At the end of the day we are a medical company, we care about the health of the patient. Depression leads to suicide, by treating it we are saving lives. The more accessible it is, the more patients there are and the more profit the physician receives. It’s a win-win for everyone, ” said the French businessman.
The role of Actipulse and EMT in the mental health pandemic
“It is estimated that here in Mexico more than 4 million people suffer from depression . After diagnosing, the specialist starts a first line treatment, which are drugs and therapy. The problem is that 4 out of 10 patients do not respond to treatment , there are no positive results or adverse effects occur, and that is when he proposes a second-line treatment such as non-invasive brain stimulation ” , explained Adrién.
Gabriel comments that after the pandemic “in some places the cases of depression doubled” and that between 90 and 95% of patients seek stimulation due to this condition or anxiety.
“The coronavirus changed the rules of the game. A study published in the scientific journal Lancet Psychiatry found that 34% of Covid-19 survivors develop or will develop a neurological or psychiatric disorder within six months of infection. And we are not just talking about Post Traumatic Stress (PST) due to being in the hospital or intubated, but a change occurs in the brain ” , Chatillôn explained. “Today there are not enough hospitals or clinics or doctors to treat so many cases of depression .”
The promising future of Actipulse
The company continually conducts research to test the safety and efficacy of TMS in other conditions. Although it is already fully approved to treat depression , anxiety , OCD , Parkinson’s and smoking , studies would make it possible to implement it in cases of insomnia , migraine , ADHD , burnout and other psychiatric, neurological and / or neurodegenerative conditions .
“We are very focused on its application for Alzheimer’s disease , which is terrible, it has no cure and there is no way to stop it. We did a clinical study at the National Institute of Nutrition (Mexico City), where we applied stimulation in the earliest stages of the disease with the aim of stopping it, and we had excellent results, “ said Gabriel.
Actipulse has also carried out research in collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine and the Biomedical Research Institute of UNAM, the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), the Universidad Panamericana and the Universidad del Valle de México (UVM).
They are Gabriel Villafuerte and Adrién Chatillôn, entrepreneurs and creators of the Mexican startup Actipulse. Image courtesy of Actipulse.
Right now, the company has an active crowdfounding campaign on the Republic platform, a leader in startup financing . Its initial goal is to raise $ 1.2 million to fund the clinical study on treating depression at home , produce an even more portable and simple device, and enter the United States market with it by 2022 .
“We are going to do the study proudly in Mexico. Here the important thing is two things: that in this country there are excellent scientists and we can do great research, we are verifying it; and that the future of treatment is at home ” , highlighted Chatillôn.
“We want to be the first non-invasive neuromodulation device for the treatment of depression to be used at home. It is something that does not exist in the market today and we are in a race, many companies want to launch this type of device, large companies from the United States, and we are competing with them, although we are here and we are small. A company created in Mexico is going to bring a new treatment to the US and not the other way around , we are very proud, “ added the Mexican doctor.
Thus, “any investor with $ 100 can be an Actipulse shareholder, ” they say. An interesting opportunity considering that Republic only accepts less than 5% of applicants and is almost exclusively for US companies, so Actipulse is one of the few Mexican and Latin American companies to appear on their listings.
Expectations for Actipulse are so high that businesswoman Randi Zuckerberg , Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, became his new investor.
Another of its objectives is to develop digital tools that function as a home health guide that supports patients in a comprehensive treatment that includes monitoring of therapies, results, goals, nutrition, physical activity and other habits.
“In the end, the most important thing, the greatest reward, is knowing that we are bringing well-being to those who previously could not access treatment like this,” concludes Adrién Chatillôn while Gabriel Villafuerte nods in support.