We sit down with Haplomind founder Dr. Sonali Mohanty Quantius to understand more about Haplomind and its use in the treatment of Post-Partum Mental Health
Data analytics and machine learning continue to play a larger role in health care, drug discovery and treatment optimisation. Dr. Sonali Mohanty Quantius, a former global pharmaceutical executive, current founder of Haplomind, Scientist at ETH and part time consultant for Armstrong Clinical is developing a digital diagnostic tool “Haplomind” to support women that experienceperinatal depression. Haplomind incorporates a revolutionary use of data analytics, digital phenotyping and machine learning to identify and help treat women suffering perinatal depression. We ask Sonali what motivated her to come up “Haplomind” how it was conceived and how women with pregnancy and post-partum related depression and anxiety can be treated through Haplomind.
Sonali, firstly thanks for taking the time to chat. Before we discuss Haplomind, can you tell us a little about your background? What were some of your roles in the Pharma industry?
Thank you for having me on your blog. I am a scientist by training, having acquired my PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Zürich in the field of Type 2 Diabetes. During my post-doctoral research in proteomics, I became interested in the field of data science, or how to use structured and unstructured ‘big data’ along with advanced analytics to generate hypotheses. I was fortunate to combine both my interest in metabolic diseases and computational biology when I joined Eli Lilly as a Computational Systems biology group leader in metabolic diseases. It has been an exciting 12 years since then, where I have moved across companies and continents, all the while working in the exciting field of using advanced analytics to identify drug targets and biomarkers in Metabolic diseases, Neuroscience, and other therapeutic areas. Recently I left the pharmaceutical industry (as Director, Computational Biology at GSK) to start Haplomind, where I can continue to use machine learning to support women with early prediction of mental health conditions.
What triggered the development of haplomind? How was it conceived?
I have enjoyed my work in the Pharmaceutical industry immensely and it was very satisfying to believe that one of the targets that I have worked on could end up being a drug that would save millions of patients’ lives one day. However, I missed being closer to seeing that impact since it is a long path from identifying a promising drug target to a successful medicine (usually years and most of them fail, for various reasons). In addition, I could see the use of advanced data analytics and machine learning being applied in many respects, not just in drug discovery. So, I was ready for a new challenge, and I decided to leave the pharmaceutical industry to try something different.
It was during this time that I became a mother of twins and out of nowhere, I was struck by severe postpartum depression (PPD). It was a life-changing experience for me and what was most surprising to me (still is, to this day!) that, despite being a high-risk case for PPD as a mother of multiples, I was never screened or treated, leaving me having to cope on my own with this condition for four years on my own. My subsequent research on screening, treatment and support of mental health conditions during major life transitions in women left me amazed at how neglected and underserved this issue is. For example, each year, around 50 million women worldwide experience some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) leading to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, or postpartum psychosis during pregnancy and/or for one year following the birth of the child (‘perinatal period’). PMAD usually goes undetected and untreated due to a lack of awareness, long waiting lists for face-to-face treatments, reluctance and stigma in discussing mental health care resulting in only around 12% of women with PMAD worldwide receiving evidence-based treatment. For the rest, undetected PMAD leads to severe long term and tragic consequences, such as maternal suicides and infanticides. There are severe economic consequences to not treating PMAD early as well, for e.g., £8.1 billion loss for each one-year cohort of births in the UK and $14.2 billion for births in the US. I wanted to change this and this is why I started Haplomind.
What is Haplomind? How do people sign up and how can they benefit?
Haplomind is a digital health company that supports women who experience perinatal depression anytime from pregnancy to the end of the first year postpartum. At the core of Haplomind is a digital platform that can be used by pregnant/postpartum women and their gynaecologists and obstetricians at the same time. We use digital phenotyping and machine learning to improve screening and treatment outcomes for PMAD. The core functions of Haplomind are screening then access and match to treatment options (self-directed, peer-supported, medical and alternative treatments) for women. At the same time, Haplomind functions to provide screening, treatment options and best practices directed towards the healthcare professionals. Apart from improved screening and personalized support, Haplomind also offers a new model of data collection and sharing where all the anonymized data will be citizen-owned. i.e, you decide what you do with the data and not the company. We want to create a safe, secure and trusted place for women to take care of their mental health. We envision that, in the future, no woman will fall through the cracks because Haplomind will provide a shared journey of women and their doctors to optimize depression identification, treatment and support options.
There has been tremendous interest from women from across the world to use Haplomind’s product and services. I was overwhelmed by the support and saddened by the gaps that still exist in the mental health support of women in both high and low to middle income countries. I decided to create this app with very close involvement from women who have been on this journey and who have been very helpful in being beta testers of the app.
What interest have you had so far in Haplomind? Has there been support from individuals and the broader health care community?
I have had interest from health insurance companies as well as companies working in women’s health to offer this product to their clients. I have also had interest from national perinatal support groups from UK, Switzerland and Canada. I am working closely with partners from India and Switzerland and discussing possibilities of collaborations with many charities around the world. I have also presented Haplomind in many external talks at symposiums and I am always amazed and humbled at how many women reach out to me with their personal stories and how universal this problem appears to be.
Can you take people from any country into your app? How can people learn more?
Yes, we have designed the app so that it can be fully customized to the countries that the user is based in and the healthcare guidelines for that region. I encourage anyone who is interested or affected by perinatal depression to visit www.haplomind.com
Thanks Sonali and congratulations on such a bold endeavour. This is very exciting indeed and we look forward to hearing exciting news on how Haplomind has helped treat perinatal depression in women around the world.