Helsinki Business Hub: Major US licensing deal for ContrAl Clinics’ innovative alcohol addiction treatment

  • On November 16, 2016

The original article can be found here.

Helsinki-based ContrAl Clinics has opened the door to the US market with two major licensing deals. The company has ambitious plans for its unique method of treating alcohol addiction.

It is exciting times for Finnish addictions treatment specialist ContrAI Clinics. The company has signed licensing deals with Canadian Alavida Health and US-based ContrAl Clinics New England to introduce ContrAl’s alcohol abuse treatment method across North America.

“This is a very significant step for us. The US market for dependency treatment is the biggest in the world and worth $35 billion,” says Jukka Keski-Pukkila, CEO at ContrAI Clinics. “We are delighted to bring our treatment method within reach of more people.”

ContrAl has four private treatment centres in Finland and one in Spain, but this marks the start for its wider internationalisation plans. Interest is already high as ContrAl’s treatment programme is unique globally as it does not require total abstinence, but combines cognitive behavioral therapy and medication to help problems drinkers regain control.

The whole programme can be conducted discreetly as part of a patient’s everyday life and no inpatient treatment is necessary.

“We have used this method to treat thousands of patients in Finland and 78 percent of them are able to reduce their alcohol consumption to a safe level,” Keski-Pukkila explains. “We were the first in the world to use this method and have the most experience with it. We have some competition today, but not any similarly structured outpatient treatment programmes.”

10x more effective

ContrAl Clinics started its operations in 1996 based on the work of one of its founding members, American neuroscientist John David Sinclair. According to Keski-Pukkila, Sinclair used to describe Finland ‘as a heaven for an alcohol researcher’ (due to the government resources available) and moved to the country in early 1970’s to conduct his own research.

Sinclair’s hypothesis was that drinking problems are developed through a chemical process in the brain and that this process can be effectively treated with opioid blocker medication. Today it is known as the Sinclair Method and ContrAl became the first clinic to develop a treatment programme around it.

The idea of ‘non-abstinence’ was radical at the time, but eventually caught on in Finland and internationally.

“The world has changed. Even the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism announced in February 2015 that the goal of addiction treatment could be something else than total abstinence,” enthuses Keski-Pukkila.

This opened the door for ContrAl to the Northern American market. In autumn 2015 the company joined the Finnish healthcare industry’s networking visit to the US titled ‘Health Finland’. The tour was co-organised by Helsinki Business Hub (HBH) and helped ContrAl find its new licensing partners.

“The trip gave us great contacts in the US,” Keski-Pukkila recalls. “People over there are very interested in our methodology because they say it is ten times as effective but ten times cheaper than traditional treatment methods.”

Online treatment for online addictions

While alcohol abuse is ContrAl’s main focus, it has also created treatment programmes for other problem behaviours. The company has already had good results treating gambling addiction and is currently piloting treatment for online gaming and internet addictions. In addition, the company is developing a range of online and remote treatment options for different addictions.

“The aim is to conduct these programmes entirely online,” Keski-Pukkila notes. “This will lower the barrier for patients to participate in the treatment, as they are used to the online environment.”

Keski-Pukkila is confident of global demand for ContrAl’s approach, but acknowledges its limited resources (the company’s staff consists of 15 doctors and therapists in Finland) mean focusing on one step at a time. He has already participated in a second Health Finland trip to look for potential licensing partners in the UK.

“I believe that even small companies should go abroad. It is wise to use the help of public organisations, such as Team Finland and Helsinki Business Hub, but the key is to have a good product,” Keski-Pukkila says. “In five years’ time I’d like to see us well established in the US, as a significant player in several European countries and to have started operations in Japan.”