NIDA Funds Health Tech Startup Fighting Opioid Addiction

emocha Mobile Health has been awarded funding by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study and commercialize adherence technology for people with opioid addiction. In partnership with the University of Washington and Boston Medical Center, emocha will assess patients on office-based buprenorphine treatment using video direct observation.

Health startup emocha, which graduated from Dreamit Health in 2014, has been awarded $1.7 million by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study and commercialize our medication adherence platform for opioid use disorder. In partnership with the University of Washington and Boston Medical Center, the team is launching a multi-site study of video direct observation for patients in office-based opioid treatment (OBOT) programs.

Directly observed therapy (DOT) is proven to secure adherence to tuberculosis treatment, so applying emocha technology to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction is a natural progression. Research shows that nearly half of patients on buprenorphine drop out of care--the treatment exists, but patients are not getting the right support. emocha's platform for video DOT can help change this.

Through the NIH Fast-Track mechanism, the Phase 1 award will total $225,000, with an additional $1.5 million for Phase 2 granted upon achieving milestones. The project will demonstrate the feasibility of video directly observed therapy for patients undergoing the initiation phase of buprenorphine treatment through office-based opioid treatment (OBOT) programs. Outcomes of interest will include adherence, retention in care, measures of illicit opioid use and abstinence, and medication diversion.

Directly observed therapy (DOT), the practice of observing a patient ingest every dose of medication, is the worldwide standard of care in tuberculosis (TB) and methadone maintenance treatment. While DOT can be resource-intensive, it is the gold standard for securing adherence in TB.

emocha’s video-based DOT technology makes DOT cost-effective and scalable. emocha is quickly becoming the market leader for video DOT among public health departments monitoring TB patients, and has also deployed the technology for hepatitis C monitoring. In a recent Johns Hopkins study of emocha’s platform for TB, patients achieved 92% average adherence to medication calculated on a dose-by-dose basis, and providers saved more than $1,400 per patient over a six-month period.

For prescribers of buprenorphine for opioid use disorders, reports of medication diversion and nonadherence are barriers to treatment expansion. Research has shown that approximately one half of persons treated with buprenorphine are not retained in maintenance treatment, and that patients treated with methadone—which requires DOT—may have better retention and outcomes. Extending the platform to take-home buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction is a natural next step for emocha.

emocha will be developing the technology for OBOT in partnership with the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, two of the leading academic medical centers for substance use disorders. “I am excited for this opportunity to partner with emocha to learn if this new technology can support patients who are engaging in treatment for opioid use disorders with buprenorphine,” said Dr. Judith Tsui an associate professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine.

“This project with emocha will allow us as clinicians and researchers to examine a new platform that has potential to expand our medicine bag with a technological aid that helps patients achieve a successful recovery,” said Dr. Jeffrey Samet, Chief of General Internal Medicine at Boston Medical Center.

Read more in the full press release or coverage in The Baltimore Sun.

Charles LaCallehealth