British startup Thymia raises €920K for its video game tool to spot depression

Thymia has raised a €920K pre-seed round to scale its platform to spot and monitor depression. Kodori AG and Calm/Storm co-led this round, which was also joined by Form Ventures and included backing from Entrepreneur First.

Founded in 2020, Thymia’s technology removes the subjectivity from mental health assessments. Instead of answering questionnaires, patients play specially designed video games which use cutting-edge Neuropsychology, Linguistics and Machine Learning to detect signs of depression, as well as monitor whether symptoms are improving or worsening over time.

Through its online platform, Thymia will empower clinicians to make faster and more accurate clinical decisions by making mental illness as objectively measurable as visible physical conditions.

Co-founded by neuroscientist Dr Emilia Molimpakis and theoretical physicist Dr Stefano Goria, Thymia was created after a close friend of Emilia’s developed depression. Traditional depression assessment methods failed to convey the severity of her distress to her clinicians, ultimately culminating in a suicide attempt.

This experience led Emilia to leverage her understanding of Linguistics, Cognitive Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology to build a platform which could supplement and in time replace the highly subjective questionnaire-based approach clinicians are forced to use with patients experiencing mental health difficulties. Thymia provides them with a more accurate, faster process for assessing and monitoring major depression.

Emilia and Stefano (who is an expert in explainable multi-modal AI) have carefully created video game-style activities and challenges for patients to interact with, such as verbally describing animated scenes or interacting with moving objects. Whilst users complete the games, the Thymia software anonymously analyses three key data streams: voice, video and behavioural measures.

The software then identifies data patterns indicative of depression to help pinpoint a diagnosis more quickly and accurately. Crucially, it will also show if any treatments (whether therapies or medications) are working. This can save huge amounts of time and money by finding the right combination of treatments for a patient more quickly. In addition, the platform means clinicians can continuously and remotely monitor their patients at home in the weeks between in-person appointments.

Thymia is gathering rich data from hundreds of subjects with major depressive disorder and a normative control group to ethically and inclusively train their AI. They are removing the racial, gender and age biases typically associated with AI models to make their assessments as accurate and objective as possible.

They have already established collaborations and partnerships with several world-leading research institutes, including UCL and King’s College London, to help scale use of the technology to other cognitive disorders.

This injection of pre-seed funding will be used to gather additional data needed to enrich and expand the Thymia product, as well as to grow the startup’s technical and commercial teams.

Emilia Molimpakis, CEO and co-founder of Thymia, said: “Depression is a massive, constantly growing societal and economic problem; it is a leading cause of disability and suicides and costs the UK economy billions annually in lost productivity. COVID-19 has further compounded the issue, unleashing a mental illness “tsunami” due to a lack of in-person appointments, but also its harsh societal effects – social isolation, employment loss, bereavement and grief. From January to March 2021, the ONS found 21% of UK adults reported depressive symptoms, double that observed pre-pandemic.

“Despite this, GPs and psychiatrists are using the same diagnostic questionnaires that have been around since the 1960’s. Rating how sad you feel on a scale of 0 to 3 simply is not enough to capture the subtle nuances of early signs of depression nor track the complexities of ongoing mental illness, but our clinicians have not been given a better option. This means too many cases go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed, and too many patients wait years before the right treatment is found. We want to empower clinicians and patients themselves with better tools.”

Lucanus Polagnoli, Founder and Managing Partner at Calm/Storm, said: “We’re very excited about Thymia. It’s going to bring the same level of objectivity to mental health that we expect in the realm of physical health. Emilia & Stefano impressed us from day one with their passion, academic prowess, and rigorous commitment to building a truly inclusive mental health tool.”

The Kodori AG team added: “The need for innovation in the mental health sphere has become an undeniable fact. We believe a key component of the changing landscape needs to be better assessments that do not fall prey to self-reporting bias. Thymia is perfectly placed and uniquely capable of becoming the gold-standard of objective mental health assessments, and we are excited to support Emilia and Stefano in their mission.”