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Smartphone app approved as treatment for depression. 5 things to know about Rejoyn

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing the use of mobile app Rejoyn to be the first prescription digital treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD). Here are five things to know about it:

What is Rejoyn?

Rejoyn is a smartphone app that offers depression patients a six-week treatment program that trains them to have more control over their emotions.

According to the company’s April 1 news release, patients will be able to engage in “a combination of clinically-validated cognitive emotional training exercises for the brain and brief therapeutic lessons.”

The app is available for prescription by healthcare providers. It’s “intended to reduce the symptoms of MDD,” per an April 2 news release from the FDA.

Rejoyn was developed in a partnership between two companies — Otsuka Pharmaceutical, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and Click Therapeutics, a medical technology manufacturer headquartered in New York City.

How does it work?

Rejoyn’s inventors are targeting neuroplasticity. This is the brain’s innate ability to change itself and grow new pathways when given new experiences, according to VeryWell Mind.

While chemical imbalances are part of the issue when it comes to MDD, the news release says, for many people with MDD, that’s not the whole story. For these people, the parts of the brain that recognize and process emotion simply don’t communicate as they are supposed to, resulting in insufficient emotional regulation. Rejoyn’s training exercises target these parts of the brain and aim to strengthen that communication.

The app trains users with the Emotional Faces Memory Task, where people are instructed to identify and compare emotions on faces. Early studies of EFMT showed that these exercises may have antidepressant effects due to their ability to stimulate the regions of the brain involved in depression.

It is “designed to act like physical therapy for the brain by delivering personalized, consistent brain-training exercises designed to help improve connections in the brain regions affected by depression,” Brian Iacoviello from Mount Sinai and scientific advisor for Rejoyn, said in the release. “When stronger and more balanced connections are created, the regions of the brain responsible for processing and regulating emotions are better able to work together and symptoms of depression can improve.”

Who can use it?

Rejoyn is intended for people over 22 years old with MDD who are also taking medication. Rejoyn is developed to work in tandem with traditional prescription treatments, according to the release.

Why is it getting so much attention?

Rejoyn is the first of its kind. While wellness apps have been around for years, this is the first prescription digital treatment for MDD to be approved by the FDA.

Depression affects nearly 18% of U.S. adults, according to a 2023 Gallup report. That is more than one out of every six people. A disorder this ubiquitous has researchers wanting to find new and better treatments.

Unfortunately, according to scientists, the treatment models used most often (talk therapy and pills) date back to the 1960s and ’70s. Many in the field have long believed these to be outdated and have been encouraging alternative efforts and new frontiers.

What do experts say about it?

Dr. John Torous, director of the Division of Digital Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who was not involved in the development of Rejoyn, told ABC7NY that the kind of cognitive training Rejoyn employs is not “well-established.” He said “the research is still exploratory.”

He explains the trial for Rejoyn did not prove a “statistically significant benefit.”

According to the outlet, since Rejoyn is classified as a “low- to medium-risk medical device,” it needed to only prove that it was “safe and effective” to get approved by the FDA.

However, Rejoyn’s developers are hopeful regarding the treatment’s therapeutic potential.

“Only a third of patients diagnosed with depression and who receive antidepressants as their first-line treatment, are successful. These patients need new options that capitalize on proven-effective treatment strategies,” David Benshoof Klein, CEO of Click Therapeutics, said in the release.

“The clearance of Rejoyn signals a fundamental change in how clinicians can treat symptoms of major depressive disorder. It provides hope for those who are looking for new treatment options, especially one that is easily accessible through the device in the palm of your hand.”

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