Sooma helps to elevate the mood
Treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders is poised to come into the home, without the aid of medication.
Given the stigma that has often been attached to major depressive disorder, the wider social acceptance that has begun to pervade is a welcome reprieve for many sufferers. However, a suitable approach to treating the illness remains a bone of contention. Whilst the majority still respond favourably to pharmaceuticals and therapy, an increasing number of patients are turning to transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to restore normal brain function and alleviate their often-debilitating symptoms.
This is where Sooma comes in.
“Our product is a small portable brain stimulation device,” explains Tuomas Neuvonen, Sooma’s CEO and co-founder. “It’s used in different sizes of healthcare facilities for the treatment of depression, by patients who haven’t gotten benefit from pharmaceutical treatment, or don’t want pharmaceutical treatment.”
Showcasing tDCS’s impressive remission rate of 40 per cent, the company’s first product, the Sooma tDCS stimulator, became available at the end of last year. Given that Sooma has only been around for two years, it has been a rapid road to development for a company that specialises in medical devices.
Symptoms of good business
Neuvonen established Sooma with his colleague Jani Virtanen. Having both worked in the field of brain stimulation for a number of years, the duo set out to develop a more effective method for the treatment of depression.
It’s used by patients who haven’t gotten benefit from pharmaceutical treatment, or don’t want pharmaceutical treatment.
“We noticed that there is more and more evidence in this technology we are using,” Neuvonen recalls. “We realised at some point in the near future there could be a clinical application that used it.”
Financing was swiftly secured from both public and private sources. Finnish funding agency for innovation Tekes was quickly on board, along with capital injections from VC companies Lifeline Ventures and Finnvera.
“We initially had a different clinical indication in mind and a different technological solution,” Neuvonen recalls. “After we discussed with investors we found more interesting and more mature clinical applications. This gave us a different focus, which was good.”
A discussion of depression treatment inevitably turns to the quagmire of side effects endured by patients who are prescribed pharmaceuticals. With Sooma, these are relatively rare.
“Some people have itching under the electrode, or tenderness of the skin,” Neuvonen explains. “There may be also short duration headache. But these are pretty mild side effects.”
Neuvonen also reminds that whilst some patients claim to experience the effect of the Sooma tDCS stimulator treatment immediately, the general consensus is that its benefits arrive in a gradual manner, over the course of two or three weeks.
Sooma also seeks to facilitate self-administered care in future, by developing a range of tDCS stimulators suitable for home use.
“Some illnesses are such that you need daily or weekly treatment for the rest of your life,” Neuvonen explains. “This is something that’s probably best done at home at some point. We have to take that step carefully, to understand the benefits or if there are any risks to the use of the device at home.”
Neuvonen concedes that as Sooma is not the sole tDCS stimulator on the market, such lofty plans are part of the company’s global push towards developing new features and technology in order to maintain its competitive advantage.
“Currently we can sell this device in EU, as we have the CE mark,” he explains. “We also have regulatory approvals in Malaysia and we are looking to expand toward the North American market and bigger Asian countries as well.”
Text: James O’Sullivan