Improving brain health with VR
Virtuleap is a health and education VR startup based in Lisbon, Portugal. “We aim to elevate the cognitive assessment and training industry with the help of emerging technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence,” so CEO and co-founder Amir Bozorgzadeh.
Virtuleap combines neuroscience and virtual reality to help increase attention levels, and address cognitive illnesses, disorders, and learning challenges. “We have created a library of VR games designed by neuroscientists to test and train a range of cognitive abilities and make that data accessible through our enterprise platform. We are working with leading institutions, like the VA Health Care System and the Pacific Brain Health Center, to validate our solution as an effective diagnostic and treatment for attention deficit and cognitive decline,” explains Amir.
In an interview with 5-HT, Amir Bozorgzadeh, CEO and co-founder of Virtuleap, provides exciting insights into the work of the promising startup. He also gives an outlook in future projects and opportunities that arise from the collaboration with 5-HT and Virtuleap´s participation in the 5-HT X-Linker: Digital Health for Pharma earlier this year which the entrepreneur describes as “the most intense, fruitful way to engage with pharma companies”
What problem motivated you to start the company?
“I covered Virtual Reality for about four years for tech blogs because I was very fascinated with this space. I wanted to understand what the critical applications were and so I wrote dozens and dozens of articles and slowly the landscape made itself clear for me in the sense that I realized there was only two critical use-cases for VR and that was either in the education or the healthcare space. Virtuleap first started out as a company that was trying to address both of those sectors to some extend as we were trying to create biometric algorithms in VR that would allow you as a creator to understand whether the person is stressed out or focused – there is a lot of opportunities to know more about the human condition in VR that is not possible with screen-based devices. That really fascinated me. About a year after we had been creating these games to test our own algorithms and we realized that these neuroscience games itself were revealing an opportunity that was much more immediate and in need and so we pivoted about a year and a half after the inception of our company into what we are currently: a VR brain training company."
Writing about VR for multiple years gave me the specialty to understand the sector and what its critical use-cases are rather than nice-to-have´s like gaming and entertainment.
How does Virtuleap work?
“We have a neuroscientist who leads the way initially creating a roadmap of specific cognitive domains that we want to address by creating games. We want to translate neurocytologic assessment tools into these gamified experiences that are fully immersive and ecological valid in multisensory. The games are each one designed to target one of eighteen different cognitive categories. Once that roadmap is clear and the games themselves are confirmed in terms of their research side, the neuroscientist works with our game developers to figure out what is the compromise to translate that into a gamified experience that is compelling and scientifically valid. VR is an effective alternative to real-world training. Virtuleap highlights how VR serves as a practical training alternative, with similar improvement and adherence rates between real world and immersive training."
What makes you different from other startups with similar solutions?
“We just don´t know any companies in our field that have the same level of development. We know some companies that have like three cognitive games or maybe five – we have fifteen. And you need fifteen of our games to be able to fully assess the full range of these eighteen cognitive abilities. So, if someone has only 5 games or less it is just a partial look of a person. Additionally, we are also agnostic to all cognitive disorders, meaning everything we have created can be as useful to a hospital or pharmaceutical that wants to address ADHD or a traumatic brain injury or autism, they can do it all using our platform.”
What are your plans for the future? (and how can 5-HT support you)
“Our main primary market that we are convinced we can have the biggest impact and where we fit the best is pharmaceuticals and it has taken us about three years to develop our solution to a point where its commercially ready to go. Pharmaceuticals is the ones we want to partner with and however that means we must map out to what the pharmaceutical company in question sees us as best fitting into. Because we are agnostic, we must figure out which therapeutic areas of which pharmaceutical do we appear to. Moving forward finding those pilots is our focus.”
How would you describe the future of digital health?
“I think the pandemic has certainly accelerated everything on all fronts. We´ve seen that across every type of organization especially pharma, healthcare, and education. These are all groups that had to become a little bit more flexible in what they adopt and jumping into using technologies faster. I think we are going to see a lot of organizations starting to embrace digital therapeutics that otherwise might have been sci-fi for them two years ago. I think it has opened the floodgates. Since then, we see DiGA in Germany, we see FDA in the US opening up categories specifically for VR."
Soon you´re going to see VR accelerating for sure.
How was your overall experience with the X-Linker: Digital Health for Pharma?
It was the most intense, fruitful way to engage with pharma companies that otherwise would be inaccessible to us at this level of speed.
"Usually, you have events with 20 percent content and 80 percent filler, the 5-HT X-Linker was 80 precent content and 20 percent filler. Nothing is ever a 100 percent perfect, but this is as good as it gets in terms of targeted, intense, relevant stakeholders meeting with companies at the bleeding edge of highly curated, at the highest level by people in the industry who know as ultimate matchmakers to know how to do this kind of facilitation.”
Why would you recommend other startups to participate?
“Literally 5-HT knows everyone who is important: they know who to connect. If you´re selected to participate this is the most important, most impactful, most relevant type of event that you can hope for as a startup trying to penetrate the pharma sector. This is a very potent experience.”
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