Friday, 31 May, 2024
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FDA clears digital app for depression treatment

The US Food and Drug Administration is allowing the use of Rejoyn, the first prescription digital treatment for major depressive disorder that involves an innovative approach for sufferers.

Rejoyn is a smartphone app made by Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Click Therapeutics, and intended for use alongside antidepressant medications for people 22 and older diagnosed with major depressive disorder. It employs a six-week programme that combines an approach called cognitive-emotional training and cognitive behavioural therapy lessons.

Medpage Today reports that as Rejoyn is classified as a low- to medium-risk medical device, it needed only to prove that it is “substantially equivalent” to another marketed device – meaning it is just as safe and effective – to gain FDA clearance.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the US, but experts say that up to 30% of people who take antidepressant medications are partial responders, meaning they continue to have depressive symptoms while using the drugs.

Rejoyn is designed to serve as an adjunct to antidepressants for these partial responders, using a form of cognitive-emotional training called Emotional Faces Memory Task, in which people are asked to identify and compare emotions displayed on a series of faces.

Earlier, preliminary research shows that these exercises may stimulate the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – regions of the brain that are thought to be involved in depression – and have antidepressant effects.

Dr John Torous, director of the Division of Digital Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre who was not involved in the development of Rejoyn, said that this cognitive-emotional training approach is not a well-established mechanism and that the research is still exploratory.

The FDA clearance for Rejoyn was granted based on results from a clinical trial involving 386 people aged 22 to 64 diagnosed with a major depressive disorder that was not responsive to antidepressants. They were assigned to use either the Rejoyn app or a sham app that gave memory tasks that did not involve cognitive-emotional training or cognitive behavioural therapy.

The study found that while participants using the Rejoyn app showed an improvement in depressive symptoms from baseline, the average change was not significantly different from the change observed with the sham app. There were no side effects reported in the trial.

Torous said that while it was important to note that the trial did not prove that Rejoyn has a statistically significant benefit, the app was also not designed to be a standalone treatment.

“If the benefit is minimal but the risks are minimal, perhaps there’s no harm in trying it,” he said. “Hopefully, we see more evidence come out in the future, because as a clinician psychiatrist, I want to make sure people use something that is going to make them better.”

Otsuka Pharmaceutical said it is evaluating additional areas of research, including other indications and patient populations, but did not outline any specific follow-up studies.

Rejoyn will require a prescription for download and be available late this year, the company addede.

Torous said the next frontier would be educating everyone on the risks and benefits of these tools. Many clinicians may not be ready or prepared to begin prescribing, them, he added.

There is also the question of how engaged patients will be with the app. The Rejoyn study found that 88% of participants completed at least 12 of the 18 treatment sessions.

Thousands of mental health apps geared toward various mental health disorders don’t require a prescription, Torous said. Doctors need to understand the specific needs and preferences of their patients before recommending a digital tool.

“I think that patients and clinicians are curious and excited to learn more, but both want to understand the risks and benefits. There is an opportunity cost if you do something that is not effective.”


NPJ Digital Medicine article – A randomised, controlled pilot trial of the Emotional Faces Memory Task: a digital therapeutic for depression (Open access)


CNN article – FDA clears first digital treatment for depression, but experts caution that research is still early (Open access)


Clinical Brief summary – Rejoyn™ Clinician Brief Summary (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Smartphone apps an effective treatment option for depression


Mental health disorders to affect half the world by 75 – large global study


Depression after TBI could be new clinical disorder – US study








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