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A human centric vision for neuroscience therapeutics

If you think that one of the main goals of neuroscience should be to understand how the human brain works, then the last 10 years of neuroscience have likely been disappointing.  It’s not for lack of trying: the NIH alone has spent an average of more than $6.7 Billion per year since 2013 on neuroscience research as part of the brain initiative, and countless terabytes of data have been collected across hundreds of thousands of experiments by an ever growing number of neuroscience PhDs.  Despite this considerable effort, the big neuroscience achievements of the last decade have not translated to any broader understanding of how brains work in humans.  Indeed, neuroscience was left off of most of the “top ten scientific achievements of the decade” lists last year.  One can compare neuroscience in this respect to basic physics research, which receives a comparable amount of funding but in the last 10 years detected both gravitational waves and the Higgs Boson, representing fundamental breakthroughs for that field. 

For our society, there is a particular sense of urgency around understanding the human brain when it isn’t working as expected, namely in the case of brain diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Depression.  Transformative therapies are primarily driven by new scientific insight*, and the relative lack of new scientific insight into common brain pathologies is directly linked to the lack of new treatment options for patients.  Thus, while communities for oncology, immunology, and rare disease have come to expect steady improving treatment options the therapeutic arsenal for brain disease has remained largely static over the last two decades and patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Depression, and other brain disease have some of the highest unmet needs in modern medicine.

What’s holding neuroscience back from helping us understand better how our brains actually work?  One hypothesis is that a lack of large amounts of high quality data about *human* brains.  The vast majority of data in neuroscience is generated from mouse brains, fly brains, slices of neuronal tissue - everything except the brains of actual people.  This makes sense since the bar for collecting brain data from humans (especially invasively) is justifiably high, but modern science is based on accumulation of large amounts of evidence and neuroscience is no different.  Brain diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, and Depression are uniquely human, and the practice of using animal models to develop new therapies used in other indications has proven to be a dead end in neuroscience.  There is no getting around it: if we want to better understand the human brain, including pathologies that affect it, we need more and better data from human brains.

Rune Labs was founded to address this “human data problem”  in neuroscience.  Our approach is to leverage the many thousands of brain images, brain signals, and brain scans that are collected every day as a part of clinical trials and as a part of routine patient care in neurology and psychiatry.  Although the rate at which this data is being generated is accelerating, today it is largely siloed at the level of a single patient visit, rarely collected longitudinally and even more rarely aggregated across patients or studies.  Rune’s software platform labels, ingests, and organizes this type of clinical brain data for our partners in med-tech, pharma, clinics, and health systems, and makes it useful for therapy development and delivery.  We are especially active in working with neuromodulation companies in deep brain stimulation (DBS) and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), since these firms are at the forefront of data driven care for brain disease.  The applications we are building with partners in this space - including adaptive neuromodulation therapies and precision remote care for neurology - are tantalizing start to our human centric vision for neuroscience therapeutics.

Today we are announcing our $5M Seed financing round, led by DigiTx Partners.  This financing will allow us to expand from our initial academic and commercial partnerships to cover a wider range of patients, which means a larger volume of clinical brain data.  Also, we are welcoming Managing Director at DigiTx David Kim to our board of directors. David’s deep expertise in medicine, digital health, and neuromodulation is the perfect addition to our leadership group as we look to scale our brain data partnerships through the next phase of our company.  Together with our partners and the Rune Labs team, we hope to make a meaningful contribution to the world of neuroscience so that the “top ten scientific breakthroughs” lists for the next decade are full of discoveries about the human brain.

*A possible exception are the recent approvals for use of ketamine and psychedelic compounds for treatment of depression, which are perhaps driven more by cultural changes that affect regulation than new science per-se. 


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