It was a cold winter day in early 2015, and I remember sitting in a dimly lit coffee shop in Liuyang, China researching medications that might improve my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms. The wifi was spotty, and my VPN disconnected often, but I was in the zone. Nothing could break my focus– not even the waitress asking me, “Nǐ xiǎng hē gèng duō de kāfēi ma?” or “Would you like to drink more coffee?”
I was looking to either find a medication with minimal side effects or see if researchers had plans to produce one in the near future, since I was tired of suffering. Although Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), the major type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used to treat people with OCD, had empowered me to “get back in the saddle” and re-immerse myself in the activities I once loved, a dull anxious feeling would still constantly tighten my chest, grip my throat, and stiffen my face– my body’s way of preparing itself for an intense OCD episode that could strike at any moment. I’m sure many of you can relate.
Doing ERP alone helped me learn to manage my OCD in weeks, enabling me to leave my house and travel to China as an English teacher, but it didn’t reduce my anxiety all at once. The reason: it often takes people with OCD months, or even years, to feel the physiological benefits of ERP, which is why so many are prescribed one of the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) in addition to their ERP therapy. SSRIs are prescribed to reduce the sting of enduring ERP, and the combination of ERP and SSRIs has been clinically proven to be one of the most effective ways to treat OCD today.
However, research shows that the current “gold standard” treatment approach is not always golden for OCD patients. First, SSRIs are antidepressants, designed primarily to treat depression. Even though OCD patients can benefit from SSRIs, research suggests it sometimes takes a significant amount of trial and error before people experience improvement.
Many people try a variety of SSRIs and dosages before finding the medication that works best for them. Second, they sometimes come with a variety of side effects that cause discomfort. A few typical side effects are weight gain, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, and agitation. Third, ERP therapy is widely inaccessible and tough to manage. OCD specialists charge extremely high rates for their service, and they often don’t take insurance. And, after seeing a specialist, people with OCD are often asked to manage their condition alone, without any additional resources.
For these reasons, and because ERP was already working well for me, I decided to pass on SSRIs while going through OCD treatment. As much as I wanted to feel better, I felt the risk of experiencing harsh side effects and managing haphazard results on top of the difficulties of ERP was not worth it. People with OCD can suffer quite a bit, so we want to get results fast, and in today’s world we should have the ability to get actual “gold standard” treatment in just minutes. At that coffee shop in Liuyang, I dreamt of a world where people with OCD could access better ERP and OCD-specific medication in minutes– not only to help myself improve, but also to help millions of others who were sharing their difficult experiences online.
When I read about Dr. Vlad Coric, CEO of Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, I felt for the first time as if someone else shared that dream. Defying the pharma stereotype, Dr. Coric cares deeply about the well-being of OCD patients all over the world, and his past work proves it. Prior to starting at Biohaven, Dr. Coric worked on the OCD research team at Yale University for decades, and his research on the neurotransmitter glutamate has encouraged researchers to explore alternative OCD treatment methods, like ketamine administration, that work on glutamate. Dr. Coric isn’t just a pharma executive; he has recognized major problems within the OCD treatment industry and is doing meaningful work to try to address them.
Flash forward to July 2017: Meeting Dr. Coric
China was great, but I missed huge pancake breakfasts. After conquering my OCD and working with my team to make nOCD the most widely adopted OCD treatment platform in the world, I decided to attend the International OCD Foundation Conference in San Francisco, mainly to have the opportunity to meet Dr. Coric in person. Before our meeting, I was both nervous and excited, because I knew I would be meeting one of the most dedicated OCD researchers in the world, and I wanted to make sure that I made a good impression.
The meeting went better than I ever could have imagined. Dr. Coric was humble and friendly, and brought up many amazing points about how we could enhance the nOCD platform to augment research and provide access to care more quickly. In addition, I could feel his genuine passion for helping people dealing with OCD and related conditions, and his desire to innovate psychiatric pharmacology with new technology and ideas. Leaving the conversation, I told Dr. Coric that I’d love to do whatever I could to enhance his research. That’s where our collaboration began.
With the recent partnership between Biohaven Pharmaceuticals and nOCD, I think we’ve just taken a major step forward toward creating a better world for OCD patients. If you have OCD or a related condition, or you’re concerned about a family member or friend, have hope! You have two new companies working nonstop to make this part of your life a lot easier. And now, because you’re the community we want to help, we need your voice. Let us know in the comments what you envision for a world with accessible, effective, and affordable behavioral therapy and medication.