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Exclusive: Motif inputs $19M for depression treatment device

Illustration of a gold-plated brain.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Motif Neurotech, a developer of brain stimulation devices for depression, raised $18.75 million in Series A funding, CEO Jacob Robinson tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: The most widely-available depression treatment is selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), but as many as one-third of people don't respond to the drugs. For them, there's hope that electronic stimulation can help.

How it works: The Houston-based company is developing a device that would emit pulses of electrical stimulation to the brain in an effort to restore promote normal activity, similar to how transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) works.

  • In contrast to TMS, which requires trips to specialized centers to receive treatment, Motif's approach would involve a device implanted near the surface of the brain in a 20-minute outpatient surgical procedure.
  • Depending on the results of its first study, Robinson envisions Motif's device being worn in one of two scenarios: Either for 20 mins a day for about six weeks, or for eight hours a day for a week.
  • Robinson envisions the device being reimbursed by insurance.

Details: Arboretum Ventures led the round.

  • New investors KdT Ventures, Satori Neuro, Dolby Family Ventures, re.Mind Capital participated, alongside existing backers Divergent Capital, TMC Innovation, PsyMed Ventures, Empath Ventures and Capital Factory.
  • Funds will be used to bring Motif's leading technology, a miniature implantable brain stimulator called DOT, into a first clinical study for patients whose depression doesn't respond to antidepressants.
  • Satori Neuro's Amy Kruse and Arboretum Ventures' Tom Shehab are joining Motif's board of directors.
  • Robinson foresees Motif raising a Series B after it receives data back from its first clinical study.

Flashback: "I was an academic with an idea on a blackboard in a lab 10 years ago," says Robinson, who came up with the concept of Motif at Rice University.

What they're saying: "There's still a perception that an implant is not what we do for mental health. The same was true for pacemakers," says Robinson.

  • "When we normalize the idea of devices to help us with other conditions like mental health, something like this can become first and second line therapy."

The intrigue: Even minor surgery could function as a hurdle for potential Motif patients, and that's something investor and Arboretum managing partner Shehab doesn't "take lightly."

  • "There are so many patients across treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and other indications, we felt that a minor outpatient procedure, while significant, would not limit the uses of this," Shehab says.
  • Part of Shehab's rationale for that is Motif's potential convenience — "this can be managed by patients and providers and the patient can do the vast majority of the treatment at home," he adds.
  • Plus, relapse is common among patients with severe depression, and Shehab sees Motif's device as having the potential to help treat those episodes too.

1 fun thing: The name Motif is a nod to the company's goal of stimulating patterns — or motifs — across the brain.

  • "It's part of the idea of being a network interface," Robinson says.
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