Are you happy?
Not the kind of happiness you feel when you eat chocolate, or land a new trick on your skateboard.
Like, genuinely happy… Taken all together, how would you say things are going these days? Maybe the past couple of months, or even years?
If I asked you this question in 1990, you’d be more likely to be happy.
American happiness is going down…
According to data from the General Social Survey, on a scale of 1 to 3, where 1 represents “not too happy” and 3 means “very happy,” Americans on average gave themselves a 2.18 — just above “pretty happy.” That’s a significant decline from the nation’s peak happiness of the early 1990s.
This change is driven by the number of people who say they’re not too happy: 13 percent in 2018 vs. 8 percent in 1990. That’s a more than 50 percent increase.
This is where we come in…
Our newest moonshot initiative, Neurojoy, aims to give every human being the right to happiness.
By this, we mean the right to experience long-term joy in life. The right to be motivated and explore your passions. The right to get up every morning, ready to take on the day and achieve your goals. The right to embrace all of your “short-term” emotions, from sadness to disgust. The right to feel the world around you.
We understand that one of the key barriers in experiencing long-term happiness is mental illness.
Mental illnesses are neuropsychiatric conditions that involve changes in emotion, thinking and/or behavior. They are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.
Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. For some individuals, major depression can result in severe impairments that interfere with or limit one’s ability to carry out major life activities.
According to NIH, an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 7.1% of all U.S. adults. The prevalence of adults with a major depressive episode was highest among individuals aged 18–25 (13.1%).
An estimated 3.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 13.3% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.
As each person’s brain varies, so does their need for a variety of mental health treatment options. An estimated 65% of adults received combined care by a health professional and medication treatment last year; this may have included various forms of talk therapy and a personalized SSRI regimen.
Current Mental Illness Treatments:
Awareness and understanding of different forms of therapy are typically low among the general public, therefore making the field of therapy susceptible to manipulation by those with vested interests in promoting specific therapy brands.
- Psychodynamic therapy, also known as insight-oriented therapy, evolved from Freudian psychoanalysis. Like adherents of psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapists believe that bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness promotes insight and resolves conflict.
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an information processing therapy that helps clients cope with trauma, addictions, and phobias.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy stresses the role of thinking in how we feel and what we do.The therapist assists the client in identifying, testing the reality of, and correcting dysfunctional beliefs underlying his or her thinking.
According to IBISWorld, the market size, measured by revenue, of the Behavioral Therapists industry is $8.8 billion in 2020. The market size in the US has grown 3.7% per year on average between 2015 and 2020.
Yet, the current talk therapy market struggles to do the following:
- Create awareness of therapies of depth, insight and relationship among multiple audiences
- Enhance understanding in the public of what psychoanalytic and other therapies are, dispelling biases, myths, and misconceptions
- Improve the perceived value of therapy for long-term mental health (value and effectiveness, from treatment and cost perspectives)
- Increase motivation for more people to choose or recommend these therapies as a form of treatment and help for problems in living
With the rise of technology, there has also been a rise in technological treatments, such as virtual talk therapy, mental health chatbots, behavioral trackers, and online screening tests. These have all increased awareness of the issue but none have proven to be too effective.
In fact, nearly one in five adults in the U.S. is living with a mental health condition. One of the leading causes of mental illness is depression (major depressive disorder). In 2017, depression was cited by the United Nations Health Agency as the world’s leading cause of disability worldwide.
Depression, and other psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, can often lead to suicide. Nearly 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.
One life is taken every 40 seconds.
According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15–29 year olds. And there are indications that for each adult who died by suicide, there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. Not to mention the devastated friends and family of the individual.
And while we believe that lives are far more important than money, there is an economic incentive here as well. In 2010, it was estimated that the economic burden of depression only was more than $210.5 billion per year.
Nearly half of these costs are attributed to the workplace, including absenteeism (missed days from work) and presenteeism (reduced productivity while at work), whereas 45%-47% are due to direct medical costs, shared by employers, employees and society. About 5% of the total expenditures are related to suicide.
Mental health disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity a year. The United Nations Health Agency estimated in 2017 that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, which is only expected to increase. Unfortunately, it is clear that current treatments are not effective enough.
The rise in mental illness remains the main driver behind the expansion of the antidepressant drug market because many patients end up relying on SSRIs for long term use to maintain their quality of life.
Antidepressants are widely used medications used to treat depression and other psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Globally, the share of population with depression ranges in between 2% to 6%. Some articles report that older people are going through the high risk of depression comparing to other age groups, but anyone at any age can be affected.
According to WHO, about 322 million people suffered with a depressive disorder up until 2015; these people become reliant on their medication as a result of the debilitating nature of the disorder, further spurring on the antidepressant market.
The major products in this market include medications like tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors, etc.
These drugs are used to treat a variety of disorders in association with depression because mental illness treatments are not one size fits all and it make take time coupled with various treatment plans to finally experience some relief from the daily onslaught of symptoms.
Depression is just one of over 200 mental illnesses. Each and every one of them is far more than a mental hurdle, and they actively make life difficult for the billions who endure it. For this reason, antidepressants are also used to treat anxiety disorders, and with over 284 million people suffering from an anxiety disorder, this further gives prescription drug makers an opportunity for the market to grow in this segment.
Antidepressants are even used to treat issues like insomnia, chronic pain and migraines, even though those may not be completely rooted in a mental illness problem. Almost 29% of antidepressant drugs are used for off-label purpose.
Although it may seem like the market is unstoppable, there are a couple of things preventing it from completely exploding and taking over the economy as we know it. Serious side effects when taking antidepressants are the main factor against the growth of the antidepressant drugs market, as well as affordability for low-income communities and stigma against mental illness.
Not only that, but sometimes when patients stop taking their antidepressants, they can experience discontinuation syndrome which resembles recurrent depression. This forces patients to rely on a daily medication for most of their lives or risk severe depressive symptoms.
According to the CDC, the percentage of people above age 12 years using antidepressants in USA rose to 12.7% in 2011–2014.
The antidepressant market relies largely off of North American prescription drug use due to both the rising of number of prescription drugs and number of mental health disorder cases. In the United States, antidepressants were the most commonly prescribed drugs in 2013 with over16 million long term users.
The rate of antidepressant use in this country among teens and adults increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants, are thought to work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain.
How researchers think SSRIs work…
They are based on the “chemical imbalance” theory, that certain neurotransmitters like serotonin are decreased in depressed brains, causing depression.
The serotonin hypothesis SSRIs are based off of is almost 50 years old.
And in order for scientist to suggest an imbalance in anything, we’d have to understand what a perfectly balanced brain looks like.
No study or researcher has been able to show such a brain.
“There is a growing body of medical literature casting doubt on the serotonin hypothesis, and this body is not reflected in the consumer advertisements. In particular, many SSRI advertisements continue to claim that the mechanism of action of SSRIs is that of correcting a chemical imbalance, such as a paroxetine advertisement, which states, ‘With continued treatment, Paxil can help restore the balance of serotonin…’ Yet there is no such thing as a scientifically established correct ‘balance’ of serotonin. The take-home message for consumers viewing SSRI advertisements is probably that SSRIs work by normalizing neurotransmitters that have gone awry. This was a hopeful notion 30 years ago, but is not an accurate reflection of present-day scientific evidence.” — Lacasse and Leo, PLOS Medicine 2005
Modern research suggests that there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.
However, this does not mean that SSRIs and other antidepressants have not been shown to be effective in some patients.
In 2015, the NIH conducted a study that found when depressed patients are given a placebo, about 20 to 40 out of 100 people who took a saw their symptoms. For those treated with antidepressants, about 40 to 60 out of 100 people noticed improvement. Antidepressants only helped about 20 more people out of 100. A study in 2018 also supported that antidepressants are more effective than placebo drugs. Most of the drugs in the study were SSRIs, and nobody really knows how they even work in the first place.
Still, studies have found that about 30% of all people with depression don’t respond adequately to the available treatments. This is a “dismal failure rate” for a class of drugs designed to improve a person’s basic ability to function.
The general consensus of experts in the field is that new treatments are needed badly. “We don’t have any very precise treatments for depression at this point in time,” says John Geddes, professor of epidemiological psychiatry at Oxford University.
Dr. Roy Perlis, director of the Center for Experimental Drugs and Diagnostics at Massachusetts General Hospital, states that “we desperately need truly new interventions.”
This is precisely where Neurojoy is making an impact right now.
Using Neurotechnology to Treat Depression
Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, brain-computer interfaces and gene editing are growing exponentially. However, they have been widely underutilized in treating complex disorders like depression.
By creating novel treatments for brain disorders with emerging technologies and modern neuroscience, Neurojoy is spreading happiness, one neuron at a time.
While we have several ideas planned out, the first one we are focusing on is leveraging nanotechnology and brain-computer interfaces to stimulate neural activity non-invasively, suppressing psychiatric symptoms in real time.
The solution lies in neurotechnology, but what is it and how profitable is the market?
Neurotechnology is “any technology which allows us to understand the brain, consciousness and thought processes.”
It can also be defined as hardware or software that is used to measure/receive inputs/communicate with cognitive processes.
Examples of neurotech include…
- The popular Muse headband used to read brainwaves during meditation and give an accurate representation of ones stress levels over time
- Neuralink, developed by Elon Musk to make sure humans step one step ahead of AI
- Neurable, a VR startup in Boston using EEG technology to improve their simulations
Neurotech Reports projects that the overall worldwide market for neurotechnology products will be $9.1 billion in 2020 and will reach $15.1 billion in 2024.
Neurotechnology isn’t just for people suffering for mental illness; it is actually more commonly used to treat medical disorders like spinal cord injury, deafness, blindness, stroke, epilepsy, and chronic pain.
The neurotechnology market is divided into many segments, the three largest being:
As neurological conditions continue to be identified, the number of people suffering from a neurodegenerative or neuropsychiatric disorder will increase, therefore causing considerable growth in the neurotechnology market.
Over time, business and government leaders are understanding the debilitating nature of neuropsychiatric conditions and their effects on society in terms of lost productivity, treatment, and diminished quality of life.
According to Neurotech Reports, the neurotechnology industry “depends heavily on the readiness of private and public health insurance organizations to reimburse patients for the cost of the devices and the procedures associated with implanting, maintaining, and training the device.”
“The growth of neurotechnology devices also depends heavily on the degree to which clinicians and their patients are aware of their capabilities. Because it is new, neurotechnology has not yet achieved the degree of penetration in awareness of both physicians and patients who would be strong candidates.”
Increasing understanding of central neural mechanisms will also lead to a boom in the neurotech industry. Advances in nanotechnology may even create new opportunities in the neuromodulation industry.
Our Treatment Method
For background, deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a neurosurgical procedure involving the placement of a neurostimulator directly into the brain, sending high-frequency electrical impulses through implanted electrodes deep in the brain to specific brain areas. It was first used with success for treating movement disorders like Parkinson’s, and has since been extended to the treatment of psychiatric disorders.
Depending on the placement, it can either inhibit or excite neurons associated with different disorders to fix mixed signaling associated with disorders. DBS has been shown to induce the gradual reorganization of neural circuits via enhanced synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis, as well as alter brain metabolism due to increased release of specific neurotransmitters based on the neurons targeted. It has shown to be an effective treatment for psychiatric disorders like depression and OCD, even the most severe cases.
However, current brain stimulation technology has low specificity and often relies on highly-invasive direct-contact-electrode techniques, having a high risk of infection. While there are noninvasive methods, the locality of focusing and depth are significantly limited. Additionally, most current technologies are open-loop, meaning they do not modulate brain activity in real time.
Neurojoy is solving this problem by using magnetoelectric nanoparticles (MENs) and a headband capable of recording brainwaves and creating a magnetic field to modulate neural activity non-invasively, suppressing psychiatric symptoms in real time. (Don’t worry, we’re going to explain!)
A nanoparticle is an extremely small particle with a dimension less than 100 nanometers (nm). Due to their size, researchers are finding that they are incredibly useful in the biomedical field, improving diagnostics and drug delivery methods.
Magnetoelectric nanoparticles (MENs) are a special type of nanoparticle. They’re special because they show a strong magnetoelectric coupling, exploiting a phenomenon known as the magnetoelectric (ME) effect.
What this means is that when MENs are exposed to a magnetic field, they generate local electric fields. In the photo above, you can see their core-shell structure.
Given that neurons in the brain communicate electrochemically, MENs can be used in the brain to directly stimulate neural circuits using a magnetic field to generate local electric fields with high specificity. A previous study has used this technique in mice, administering the nanoparticles intravenously, successfully crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Neurojoy’s solution leverages this phenomenon and also includes the use of an electroencephalography (EEG) headband.
An EEG is a device that records electrical activity in the brain, or brainwaves. Neurons communicate with each other via electrical impulses, and this is what an EEG captures.
With brainwave data captured from EEG recordings, researchers have been able to understand the neural correlates, or “fingerprints,” of different mental states.
Neurojoy’s solution records brainwave data with an EEG headband in real time. This brainwave data, possibly along with heart rate and breathing rate data from a smart watch, will be fed into a machine learning algorithm to predict the onset of a psychiatric symptom, such as a panic attack or depressive episode.
If predicted, magnetic coils in the headband will be activated, meaning the MENs will generate local electric fields to stimulate neurons in the brain. Neural stimulation will occur wherever MENs are in the brain.
We understand that there is no such thing as what a “happy brain” looks like. Ligands, or “guide molecules,” will be generated that will bind to MENs, so that they can target specific areas of the brain and the receptors of specific neuron types, as demonstrated in previous studies. This will make the treatment more personalized, based on the individual’s needs and neural abnormalities.
We plan to accomplish this within the next 10 years. However, we are very ambitious and are working on a few other projects as part of Neurojoy, having to do with:
- Virtual reality for therapy in developing countries
- Artificial intelligence in medical diagnosis
- Connectomics and metabolomics
Neurojoy 10 Year Business Timeline:
When doctors treat neuropsychiatric disorders, they focus on treating the symptoms and not getting to the root of the problem itself. At Neurojoy, we are working to change that.
Neurojoy aims to give every human being the right to happiness, one neuron at a time, through a three part treatment plan.
- Invasive MENs
- Non-invasive EEG wearable device
- Software analysis platform to incorporate personalized therapeutic content based on your neurological data
You can read more about the technical science behind our product in an article written by my cofounder, Mikey Taylor.
Through our extensive research and the effort we have put into the development process, we have come up with a rational ten year timeline outlining our pursuits in furthering the company:
- Follow neurotech/nanotech market growth closely to watch for ways the market grows or fails due to COVID-19
- Onboard remote employees, such as an attorney, neuroscience researcher
- Meet with ethicists and legal strategists to learn what next steps would be for building out the product
- Continued Ideation and Concepting
- Cofounders sign a shareholder agreement
- Raise initial seed capital through grants
- Develop a product in-house from bench research to market approval
- Identify differentiation in product profile and mechanism of action while prioritizing the product’s efficacy, potential for establishing a new standard of care, and improved side effect profile.
- Purchase a building to move company from virtual to brick and mortar and have a place to run experiments/collect data.
- Onboard employees to help run the physical lab and conduct experiments
- Raise seed capital through grants and secure a phase 1/2 biotech-pharma licensing deal
- Possibly partner with a company that has a complementary scale or functional areas of strength and capabilities
- Start planning for how to gather volunteers for clinical trials
- Raise seed capital through grants and/or investors
- Secure strategic alliances, partnerships,
- Run experiments on quantum dots to determine the best materials for our product
- Nanotechnology has advanced far enough to allow for clinical testing of the product; start Phase 1 trials
- Gather volunteers for human clinical trials
- Raise seed capital through investors to meet the funding requirements for further clinical testing
- Start Phase II trials.
- Possibly incorporate our company as a C Corporation
- Raise seed capital through investors to meet the funding requirements for further clinical testing
- Continue Phase II trials and plan for Phase III
- Secure intellectual property of the product
- Build out software platform that analyzes brain data during QD treatment
- Start Phase III trials
- Identify current market opportunities found in the past five years and expected in the next five years to reassess when to demo product. Reassess the goals for the next five years and act as necessary
- Onboard marketing team to hit target demographics (therapists and clinicians treating people with severe depression that does not respond well to treatment, suicidal ideation, chronic pain, or little to no quality of life at risk of suicide)
- Finalize Phase III trials and enter Phase 4
- Develop legal aspect of company and consent to treatment
- Roll product out on the market; neuropharmacology sector in the personalized medicine industry
- Roll out advertising target therapeutic market with demonstrated market returns and unmet needs
- Continued marketing and product refinement
- Analyze revenue growth/initial traction
- Look for clear product market fit; initial KPIs are identified
- Onboard new employees as company grows; prioritize management
- Scale fast after resonating with target market
- Increase funding initiatives
- Roll out companion products on market
2030: Dominate the neurotechnology market and cure depression
Future initiatives through Neurojoy may also include:
- Virtual reality for therapy in developing countries
- Artificial intelligence in medical diagnosis
- Connectomics and metabolomics
Humans have suffered enough, and if everyone deserves the right to live, then we also deserve the right to live without being restricted by our own minds. Through our efforts in developing magnoelectric nanoparticles, and the power of emerging neurotechnology, we, as a human race, can finally cure people’s mental illness symptoms from the root of the problem, and conquer our own bodies and minds.
Make sure to leave a clap on this article and email me us at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions about our culture, method, and business model. If you are interested in learning more about our company, please check out our slide deck detailing some other aspects of our company’s development process.
You can also check out the founders individual medium pages to see what they’ve been working on outside of the company:
Mikey Taylor, 16: CEO of Neurojoy, overall technical researcher.
Faith Inello, 16: COO of Neurojoy, business strategy and market analysis.
Alyssa Gould, 16: CTO of Neurojoy, innovation and UX/UI.