There is no simple way to deal with the life-changing event of a Parkinson’s diagnosis. The good news is that most people find acceptance and quality of life after the initial adjustment period. And some of them even get motivated to improve not only their own lives but also the lives of those who are also destined to struggle with this diagnosis. In our today’s episode of Digital Health Interviews, we are glad to have two guests, presenting the DiamPark startup application for patients with Parkinson’s disease — Djamchid Dalili (Founder) and Caroline Atlani (Chief Medical Doctor).
Djamchid Dalili is famous for his super successful project of 3W Academy, created with his friend in 2012. 3W Academy is a boot camp providing intensive web development training. This startup has had tremendous development in the past 10 years: it has trained about 10000 students. But in 2018, Djamchid received very disappointing news from the doctors, which became a painful blow for him: he has Parkinson’s disease.
Djamchid Dalili: At that moment, I had a dream company with a great social impact, so I was a really happy person. I didn’t want to become a burden to my family and I dreaded the thought of my own future in 10 years. I had enough experience to start my own Parkinson’s disease control company. I began to read a lot about this illness, think about its causes and consequences, and try to understand what can stop its harmful development for a person. Unfortunately, I learned that there is no cure for it. The last successful drug was discovered and put on the market 50 years ago. A lot has been done, and various experiments have been conducted on thousands of molecules, but they have not had any positive results. As a manager, I said to myself: “How do you measure the progress of the disease?”. There is only a test when the doctor asks you if you sleep well, have tremors in your limbs, and feel depressed. And only on the basis of such an oral survey, the doctor can determine the stability or deterioration of your condition. But if you don’t measure anything, how can you feel better? So I found my own way: I decided to measure the biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease.
The scientific basis for the DiamPark company is the measurement of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Today, the team is able to analyze it for tremors, phonation, typing skills, calligraphic movements, etc. Thus, they cover almost all symptoms of human motility.
Djamchid Dalili: We cover most of the motor and vocal symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This experience can be used in clinical research as well as by pharmaceutical companies to improve drug development. In addition, we are an important communication bridge between the patient and the neurologist. I am a patient myself, so I know that the regularity of mandatory appointments with the doctor is twice a year for 10-20 minutes. But with Parkinson’s disease, you are constantly changing, and your condition is getting worse, so you just need a deep interaction with the doctor. If everything changes suddenly, the neurologist must quickly introduce operative measures. Our app can help all parties work together and improve patient care. It will also be useful in special medical facilities for the elderly.
Today, the company presents an application on digital platforms for smartphones, as well as an application for smartwatches based on Android. Thus, full monitoring of patients with Parkinson’s disease is ensured. The app is free to download, but the company is looking to find ways to monetize it with healthcare providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies, and build business going forward.
Caroline Atlani is a medical doctor who managed to work for 25 years in pharmaceutical companies and gained a wealth of experience in a wide variety of therapeutic areas. What are the tasks of the chief physician in such a startup as DiamPark?
Caroline Atlani: The first task is to understand the ecosystem. We aim to work with more and more countries around the world, and each of them may have specific requirements, especially in Europe. We treat this as seriously and responsibly as possible.
Second, I am responsible for managing the medical community, which is very important when we are talking about Parkinson’s disease. The main “star” is a neurologist, the only person who can make such a diagnosis and prescribe therapy. But there are many caregivers, kinesiologists, speech therapists, and nutritionists — each of their advice or actions is aimed at improving the patient’s quality of life. So I have to understand who these key players are and how we can meet all their needs. For example, in France, there are about 200,000 patients per 3,000 neurologists. So, how to improve the focus on each of them in order to help everyone as much as possible in the 20 minutes allotted for the appointment?
The third task is more scientific. Every day I need to know where we are with our digital developments. There is a large amount of scientific research in development right now, so I have to be aware of every new scientific approach that is not just targeting a specific symptom, but the entire evolution of the disease. In the past, doctors simply assisted patients’ symptoms from time to time. Now the rules of the game have changed: we ask patients to express in our application every minimal change in their condition in order to adjust and personalize the therapy methods and, in this way, make life easier for both the patient and the neurologist.
Well, last but not least are the patients. We work closely with the largest patient associations. Working with them is also an absolute guarantee that at the end of the day the patient still has the strength to fight the disease on his or her own and does the exercises we suggest, tests the symptoms, and collects indicators. In this way, we significantly improve the quality of care.
Currently, the app is only available to residents of France, but by the end of this year, it will have versions in five European languages and will have an official European certification for medical devices. Thus, DiamPark will be open for distribution throughout Europe. How do patients who have already appreciated all of its benefits respond to the program?
Caroline Atlani: For patients, we have three key features. The first is the so-called pill box: having everything prescribed by dosage and attached to the application, the patient can set a reminder to take the medicine on time. This feature has many positive reviews from patients.
The second important quality is the collection of symptoms: before directly visiting the doctor, the patient may be exhausted and not remember exactly what happened to him or her during the last six months. Perhaps there were some key signs that may not be remembered at the right moment. 50 percent of patients with such a diagnosis are prone to depression, and this is very important to note. Writing down symptoms can greatly improve the dialogue with the neurologist.
Well, the last thing is rehabilitation exercises. Today, it is not easy to find a quality personal physiologist or speech therapist in our country. Our users have the opportunity to train alone or with someone. This is very helpful and encouraging. We are ready to create entire communities of patients for joint training.
In general, the application uses phone sensors, analyzes their physical indicators, and correlates them with the condition of Parkinson’s patients. The startup has made some progress with tremor metrics without machine learning. To test phonation, the patient speaks a long sound into the speaker for five seconds; DiamPark analyzes the voice, its tremor, and volume. This part uses machine learning. One single model is not suitable for all Parkinson’s patients, because each case is very individual. The company’s first patent related to a multimodel, and the second one — an individual model for a Parkinson’s patient, with precise parameters for each. The team doesn’t limit its work to symptoms alone: it also looks at how drugs can change patients’ conditions.
To improve clinical trials, the company is looking for a million for the next year, and to continue the journey to unicorn status, the team will first need another three or four million. DiamPark is planning to raise a new round at the end of the year.
Djamchid Dalili: Only you get to measure the progression of the disease, the next step is to stop the progression as such. Currently, clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease last about five years, during which patients are monitored, which is not a very quick way to get real help. We propose to show drug developers in one year how much they help to prevent the progression of the disease. Of course, pharmaceutical companies are very interested in such a device. We will have plenty of data from patients.
Our next goal is to implement digital rehabilitation tools for patients, often to improve speech. Every week, the patient has to visit an orthophonist, but if there’s no such an opportunity, he or she can use our application. Therefore, we aim to rehabilitate speech, articulation, and fine motor skills. The next step after that will be a virtual clinic, not only with teleconferencing but also with the use of our developed technologies. Patients will be able to be under the supervision of professional neurologists who will organize a qualified environment. This could be a good deal for many.
In general, there are few startups that were created by entrepreneurs to help themselves or their family members to cope with the disease. DiamPark is definitely one such example.
Djamchid Dalili: One time, establishing such a diagnosis as Parkinson’s disease became an impulse for me. I am eager to get our offering to market as soon as possible because it directly affects my health. But I understand that it is already too late for me. My brain will have the ability to regenerate thanks to some new super-technical developments no earlier than ten years after they are implemented. Personally, I am now focused on preventing the progression of the disease for the next generations of patients. Today, about six million people in the world suffer from Parkinson’s disease. If no action is taken now, their number will increase to ten million by 2030. My goal is to prevent reaching these indicators. We would very much like to stabilize the condition of the six million patients with such a diagnosis and improve their lives thanks to our solutions.
And catch the traditional final hint for startup founders in digital health from our today’s guest.
Djamchid Dalili: I would like to dedicate my advice not only to startup founders or entrepreneurs. Each of us is always an entrepreneur in our own life. You hold your life in your hands. And this is the most important thing! Act as an entrepreneur in your life at every moment.
Watch our previous episode with Didier Tranchier: Why Is It a Smart Thing to Invest in Digital Health During the World Crisis?
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