Provider Partnerships Put Outcomes Data in the Spotlight for Behavioral Health Companies

The rate of childhood ADHD diagnosis is on the rise. The most common developmental disorder, it impacts 9.4% of all U.S. children. 

Research institutions are looking to the startup industry to help piece together solutions for this growing patient population. One of those partnerships is between Boston Children’s Hospital and digital health startup Happitech.

The pair are teaming up on new research focused on the impact of exercise on ADHD. Partnerships such as this not only help researchers; they also help startups prove outcomes to future providers.


“Right now, the approach to ADHD treatment is pretty generalized,” Anne Arnett, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and a Wade Family Investigator in Child Psychology at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Behavioral Health Business. “Everybody is given the same set of tools and instructions, and it works for some kids – and it doesn’t work for others for various reasons.” 

But a new gamified system created by Happitech could aid researchers in gathering insights into ADHD treatment. The company, for example, designed one game to help participants keep their heart rate up during exercise and another to lower their heart rate during relaxation.

“So one thing that we happen to know about humans in general, but ADHD in particular, is that when it comes to things like focusing and paying attention to details and maintaining attention, we do a lot better after we’ve exercised, after we’ve gotten our heart rate up for a little bit,” Arnett said. 


However, Arnett noted that research suggests children with ADHD benefit even more from exercise than children without the condition.

“So one of the things we want to understand is whether five minutes of moderately intense exercise can be beneficial,” Arnett said. “We eventually want to understand what’s going on at the brain level. And this exercise benefits some kids more than others, are there certain characteristics of an individual that would … make them particularly responsive to an exercise intervention.”

Boston Children’s Hospital is an academic research hospital, with more than 3,000 researchers. The provider has more than 40 clinical departments and 259 specialized clinical programs.

The research, which will take place at Living Laboratory in the Museum of Science in Boston, is designed to test children’s performance after exercise and after relaxation. 

“It’s a computerized task and lasts about three minutes,” Arnett said. “And it’s a continuous performance task where kids or people are asked to press a button in response to certain images and not in response to other images. It is pretty standard in the research world as one way of measuring inhibitory control and response time, and actually maintenance.”

The Boston Children’s and Happitech partnership is still in the early stages. But in the future, the technology could be integrated into a child’s daily life.

Happitech founder and CEO Yosef Safi Harb said that research partnerships are crucial for the startup because they help provide outcomes data, which is not always present in startups.

Happitech made a name for itself as a cardiac technology company. The Rotterdam, Netherlands-based company is now continuing that work, as well as expanding into the ADHD research space.

“So this could be an easy, gamified way of having those experiences, but that is also clinically validated,” Harb said.

He noted that when it comes to the startup world “enough are making unsubstantiated claims.” Yet teaming up with researchers could help provide those outcomes.

One way that this partnership works is each stakeholder has its own area of expertise.

“We lead in the technology development, but we follow the clinicians and the experts,” Harb said.

Several startups are working in the pediatric ADHD space. Notably, Boston-based Akili landed an FDA De Novo clearance for its videogame-like digital therapeutic Endeavor. In January the company went public via a $412 million special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger at the beginning of 2022.

Boston Children’s spinout, Mightier, has also designed a gamified digital platform to help children with behavioral challenges monitor their emotions. The startup scored $17 million in December 2021, bringing the company’s total raise to $29 million.

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