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San Antonio Startup Adds Funding to Treat PTSD with Magnetic Field

Xconomy Texas — 

San Antonio—An imaging researcher who hopes to improve a method of treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder has raised a round of funding to support a clinical study for his San Antonio company’s medical device.

The business, Cerebral Magnetics, told federal securities regulators on April 9 it was seeking $1 million in an equity round of financing, though the company hadn’t sold anything in the offering yet. Peter Fox, the company’s founder, says the round will help pay for an ongoing 100-patient study of Cerebral Magnetics’ technology in military veterans with PTSD. Fox said the company closed the offering, but as a private business, Cerebral Magnetics is not required to disclose how much it raised.

Cerebral’s clinical trial is expected to conclude in July, after which Fox says he hopes to approach the FDA for guidance on what else Cerebral Magnetics must do in order to bring its medical device to the market as a treatment for PTSD. The company may seek additional funding if the FDA requires another, larger clinical trial, Fox said in an interview this week.

To treat patients, Cerebral Magnetics uses a B-shaped coil in conjunction with imaging equipment to transmit a magnetic field to a portion of a patient’s brain, which induces electrical currents in the brain, and subsequently in the neurons. That stimulation of the neurons, Fox says, can improve the symptoms of PTSD or depression. This method, called transcranial magnetic stimulation, is a noninvasive way of inducing cortical stimulation, Fox says—a decades-old method of invasive surgery to map how the brain reacts to stimulus.

Cerebral Magnetics is not the first to try to use magnetic stimulation to treat neurological conditions. In 2008, Malvern, PA-based Neuronetics became the first company to receive FDA approval to use transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat adults with major depressive disorder, whose condition wasn’t improved by an antidepressant. One study of the company’s device showed that patients who received treatment had about a 15 percent response rate (a remission of their depression). Fox says 15 percent to 20 percent is normal for existing depression treatments, and that there isn’t a well-defined response rate for PTSD. No similar devices have yet been approved for PTSD, Fox says.

“While we have not yet completed a trial in either disorder, our goal is to at least double the response rate by individualized targeting,” he wrote in an e-mail.

If Cerebral Magnetics is able to deliver better results, that may come in part because the company maps each patient’s brain, and can subsequently precisely target networks of neurons involved in emotion regulation that’s specific to an individual patient, Fox says. The company sends repeated stimulations to the brain—five to 20 per second—for a period of about 20 minutes each day over the course of a few months.

“One of the things it does is it makes the treatment very personalized,” Fox says. “This type of repetitive firing has been shown to modify the firing patterns of the underlying circuits.”

More specifically, the company also uses a robotic arm to precisely direct the magnetic field from the B-shaped coil, which causes the stimulation. The robot can more exactly target where the magnetic field is directed than the traditional method, in which a medical technician picks where to target by hand, Fox says.

Seeking out the correct spot to place the coil by hand proved to be frustratingly ineffective, Fox says. The robot, conversely, learns where to place the coil on a patient’s head thanks to Cerebral Magnetics’ software, which transmits the brain maps of each patient and the best area to target the machine via an HIPPA-compliant server, he says. That should improve the efficacy, he says.

“People have written reviews saying, ‘This is not as effective as we hope. It’s got to be because we’re shooting in the dark,’” Fox says. “Basically, we’re trying to turn the lights on.”

Since 1991, Fox has worked at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he founded its Research Imaging Institute. He has been working ways to improve the efficacy of these brain treatments since the late 1990s, he says.

Notably, the transcranial magnetic stimulation could “roughly” be compared with electroconvulsive therapy, the method of sending an electrical signal through a patient’s brain, Fox says. The treatment is effective, though the current induces a seizure, and it has a high rate of side effects, including memory loss, Fox says. Magnetic stimulation, alternatively, does not, he says.