PureTech Ventures Launches Tal Medical To Develop Magnetic-Field Treatment for Depression

6/13/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Today a company called Tal Medical is starting up in Boston with the goal of developing an entirely new approach to treating depression, inspired by a specific type of magnetic field found in some MRI imaging machines. The research is still very early, but the treatment—developed at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA—was promising enough to win backing from Boston-based PureTech Ventures and to attract an impressive slate of talent, including former Eli Lilly executive Steven Paul, who will serve as the founding chief scientific officer.

PureTech and a few individual investors are seeding the company with an $800,000 investment, says PureTech managing partner Daphne Zohar. The company’s founding CEO is Nessan Bermingham, a biology Ph.D. and managing partner of Boston-based Bio Equity Capital, which is not an investor in the seed round.

Tal, which means “rhythm” in Hindi, was born from an accidental discovery. Ten years ago, McLean was participating in a study of patients with bipolar disorder that involved imaging their brains with MRI machines. “The person doing the study noticed the patients were looking at her in the eye—they weren’t looking at their shoes—and they were being more interactive when they came out of the machine,” Bermingham says. The bottom line, he says, was their moods were greatly improved after just a short time in the MRI machine. “This happened again and again.”

So a team of McLean researchers began to try to figure out what exactly it was about this particular MRI device that was affecting the brain. They determined that it was Low Field Magnetic Stimulation (LFMS)—an oscillating magnetic field that they believed was resetting the brain’s natural rhythm. They performed and published clinical trials first on animals, and then on patients with major depressive disorder and bipolar depression. The results, says Bermingham, were compelling. In the animal trials, “the level of effect was similar to Prozac,” Lilly’s groundbreaking anti-depression drug, he says. Early data from human trials shows a statistically significant improvement in symptoms.

PureTech consulted with Lilly veteran Paul prior to licensing the technology from McLean, Zohar says. “His background is in the drug side, but he was intrigued … Next Page »

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