Monday, August 06, 2012

Cure by Gamification: Science or Wishful Thinking?

Last week, I wrote about a video game -- Akili, meaning "wisdom" in Swahili -- that the developers plan to submit to the FDA for approval in the hope that "clinicians will turn to before prescribing medicines for ADHD" (see "The Next New Drug: An FDA-Approved Video Game").

"We would aim to have efficacy and tolerability that outstrips any of the drugs," said Dr. Martucci, an associate at PureTech Ventures, which formed the start-up company that is developing the game.

I expressed strong doubts that the FDA would ever approve a game to treat a medical condition. Even if the FDA did approve such a game, I doubt insurers and other payers would pay for it. I also doubted that physicians would prescribe it.

This morning, James Ellis (@digital_pharma), a "digital strategist" at closerlook tweeted:

"Gamification is laughable, says @pharmaguy? I'd rather listen to what science says. bit.ly/NjIo9G"

In his blog post ("Who’s Scared of Gamification? (Besides pharma, I mean)"), Ellis says:
"But last week, Pharma Guy decided to stomp all over the idea of gamification like it was irritating pest. A game that helps kids with ADHD train their brain to not need Ritalin? Laughable! Now, I’m not picking a fight with John Mack (oh, wait. Yes I am), but he seemed to take actual joy in pointing at it and calling it names."

Let's start with the "laughable" crack. I certainly did not call this game or even the idea of developing FDA-approved games "laughable." And I did not call it a "name" other than what it's called by its developers! I also did not "stomp all over the idea of gamification" -- my post was simply about one particular game and not a critique of gamification. If you want that, Ellis, I suggest you read "A Drug is Developed:" Easier than Launching an Educational Facebook Game about Drug Development?

As for the science, I have no idea what Ellis is referring to in this case. There certainly is NO SCIENCE -- ie, clinical trials -- that I know of that proves a video game can treat ADHD. And certainly no scientific data that has been submitted to the FDA. Nor does Ellis offer ANY science in support of his thesis, which is nothing more than wishful thinking.

In the end, Ellis makes this wise crack: "maybe Pharma Guy thinks washing one’s hands before an operation is lunacy."

I have no idea where that came from! Maybe Ellis thinks wishful thinking -- ie, that science WILL one day prove Akili helps kids with ADHD so they will "not need" ritalin -- is enough for the pharma industry to go out and hire "digital strategists" to develop games. Now that's "lunacy!"

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