Music as Precision Medicine

Q&A with Sync Project CEO and Co-Founder Marko Ahtisaari

We have received a lot of questions regarding the Sync Project, and decided to answer the most burning ones in this blog post. Read it to get an overall look at what we are doing at the moment and why.

Try putting this on in the background as you read 

What is it? 

The Sync Project is a biotech company developing music as precision medicine. 

Intuitively we know the power that music has over us. We use music to regulate mood, to get pumped up, to work out, to relax. There is also strong directional evidence in science. Recent research has shown that music affects the same neural pathways that are regulated by pharmaceuticals such as psychostimulants and other drugs. 

The Sync Project is building on this foundation and partnering with the world’s leading scientists and musicians on the first-ever large-scale studies to measure how the structural properties of music – like beat, key and timbre – impact biometrics such as heart rate, brain activity and sleep patterns. 

We’ve built the mobile app and platform to gather this dataset and have started collecting data across a range of conditions. The platform integrates with streaming music services (like Spotify) and biometric sensors (like Apple Watch, Basis Peak, MUSE, ŌURA Ring and others). We then apply machine learning to this unique dataset to develop personalized music therapeutics. Think of us as a biometric recommendation engine for music. 

Our goal is the clinical application of music in a variety of health conditions including sleep disorders, fatigue, movement disorders, stroke recovery, anxiety and pain. 

You’re kidding, right? 

Quite serious. The Sync Project is based on the best neuroscience and clinical studies on the health effects of music. Take the example of pain. It may seem surprising, but studies have shown that when people are played the right music after an operation they request less opioids (pain medication). Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and it often begins with a prescription for pain medication following surgery or injury. We need to pursue alternative solutions for managing pain and other conditions, and clinically-validated, personalized music therapeutics present a promising option.

But music is also fun! It’s a human universal around which crowds gather. Because people intuitively understand the power of music and are curious about it’s effects, we can engage large audiences to gather this unique dataset and develop the therapeutics. That’s why we call ourselves a “project”, we’re a global collaboration to decode the health effects of music. 

What’s the product and how will you make money? 

The product is a dynamic playlist tuned to your body, for specific health outcomes. This can be monetized either as a medical (and reimbursed) mobile app or a device (speaker or headphones) bundled with a therapeutic music subscription. So for example, in the case of post-operative pain it can be a speaker/headphone bundled with the music therapeutic that you can take home with you from the hospital. 

Why would people use music therapeutics instead of drugs?  

Patients and their families are seeking effective and safe alternatives for drugs to manage major health conditions like sleep disorders, anxiety, movement disorders and pain. 

Why is it unique? 

No one else has built a platform to both gather this unique music health dataset at scale and to deliver personalized music therapeutics. While we have filed for patent protection for key parts of the platform, most of the value is in the trade secrets of our machine learning-based biometric music recommendation engine. If Alphabet, Apple, IBM or Microsoft decided to do this, they would have to take the same steps as we have done. 

Who is behind the Sync Project? 

Marko Ahtisaari (former EVP of Design at Nokia and former CEO and co-founder of Dopplr) is CEO and co-founder together with CTO Yadid Ayzenberg (PhD from the MIT Media Lab) and Head of Science Ketki Karanam (a systems biology PhD from Harvard). Our advisors include scientists Dr. Robert Zatorre (Neuroscience McGill University), Adam Gazzaley (UCSF Neuroscience), Tristan Jehan (co-founder and CTO of The Echo Nest / Spotify), and musical artists Peter Gabriel, Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Jon Hopkins, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. 

Our founding investor is PureTech Health. Our board members are Joi Ito (Director of the MIT Media Lab), biotech veteran Steven Holtzman (former chief business officer at Biogen Idec and Millennium Pharmaceuticals), Marjorie Scardino (Chairperson of the MacArthur Foundation and Twitter board member), and Daphne Zohar (CEO of PureTech Health). 

Timeline and team

We're a team of ten with expertise in science, machine learning and software engineering.

We’ve been able to attract some of the best minds from Boston science, adtech and biotech, because of the meaningful mission of the Sync Project. 

For the next year we are focused on data collection through a series of open large-scale and more focused clinical studies in order to identify which conditions – across pain, sleep, athletic performance, relaxation, movement disorders – show the largest potential health effects.

The longer-term vision

We want to take music as precision medicine into the mainstream. Our vision is to improve the health and well-being of millions through safe and effective algorithmic music therapeutics.

Thank you for reading. Do you have a question for Sync? Please send it to us using this link. We are collecting the next batch of questions to answer in a coming post.