An interview with Dr Wayne Markman CEO SYMBYX Biome- Light Therapy for Parkinson’s – thinking outside of the box! on November 7, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
SYMBYX Biome’s mission is to develop evidence-based light therapies and devices that reduce Parkinson’s disease symptoms. SYMBYX was founded in 2020 and is headquartered in Sydney, Australia. The company works with a global network of scientists and is researching the application of light therapies for reducing suffering from previously intractable chronic conditions. These conditions extend beyond Parkinson’s and include IBS, Insulin Resistance, Alzheimer’s and Crohn’s. SYMBYX has customers in almost 50 countries and is able to serve this global audience via its websites and a wide network of SYMBYX-approved clinicians.
SYMBYX designs and develops innovative medical lasers and transcranial light devices that are safe, non-invasive, painless to use and portable – mostly for the direct-to-consumer market. All devices and protocols are backed by peer-reviewed scientific research. There are currently 6 SYMBYX products in the range – these are manufactured in Sweden, Australia and Korea. Our devices are all registered and approved and we are fully ISO13485 certified as a medical device manufacturer. There are four ongoing clinical trials using SYMBYX devices in Australia and Canada, with several more international clinical trials to be announced in 2024.
I’m originally South African with German/Polish/Lithuanian parents. I emigrated to the US as a college student in 1986, and then in 2000 to Australia after I met my Australian wife. I received a BA in Economics at Macalester College, in St Paul Minnesota in 1991, during which time I also spent a year at London School of Economics. After graduating I worked as an investment banker for a wall street firm on client projects across Europe, US and South America, for several years. I graduated from Harvard University with an MBA in 1996, and after another stint in finance I decided I wanted to help people directly in a more caring way, so went back to Macquarie University in Sydney to study medical science. I have always been interested in medicine and biochemistry. I subsequently completed my post-graduate studies and qualified as a Doctor of Chiropractic.
Can you tell me more about your organization?
SYMBYX Biome’s mission is to develop medically approved light therapies to reduce chronic Parkinson’s symptoms – clinical trials are showing improvements across a range of symptoms and with a very high safety profile. We are deeply committed to increasing the evidence supporting light therapy as a complementary and effective intervention that fits nicely into a PWP’s medication, diet and exercise regime. We focus on the total patient, treat them like valued customers, educate and empower them to take primary responsibility for their health. We are determined to change how the world thinks about Parkinson’s.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
I was always a competitive athlete – soccer, tennis, high-jump. I am also a very tall person and predictably suffered from back-ache until I revved up the exercise and pilates and started taking better care of my health. I initially worked in a Sydney physiotherapy clinic for a few years, until the opportunity to start SYMBYX and develop light therapy devices to reduce the impact of chronic conditions (such as Parkinson’s) came to my attention. At first, I used lasers to treat patients for chronic pain conditions, including peripheral neuropathies. I soon found the research on Parkinson’s light trials in animals – by the mid-2000s human subjects were still not involved – and was hooked!
My grandfather, father-in-law & aunt all suffered from Parkinson’s. I was particularly impacted by my father-in-law whose diagnosis and subsequent Lewys Body Dementia robbed him of his retirement years and knowing any of his grandchildren (my 3 kids included). I could not believe how limited the treatment options and care advice on offer to him were. He suffered from neglect, poor advice, and conventional thinking, with not an ounce of thought given to a multi-pronged approach.
For me it the crossroads of everything I had done and experienced in my life until that point. I had the opportunity to make a difference and I decided to dive headfirst into the challenge.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working with you?
We are very honest about the advantages and limitations of light therapy. It complements existing interventions very well. It doesn’t offer a cure, but it is us showing to slow disease progression after 3 years of consistent use. Efficacy rates follow most conventional therapies – think of a bell curve distribution where most people, say 70-75% get some benefit; about 10-15% have extraordinary responses; and 10% have a modest response only. PwP who try light therapy are mostly hoping for some benefit and are already pre-disposed to a multi-pronged approach including a good diet, plenty of exercise and levodopa. Any relief is typically viewed and celebrated as a victory, and we have the most wonderful customers.
What type of training and how long are the programs?
Using light therapy and the SYMBYX devices is simple. We have a team of highly trained clinicians available to assist, answer questions, provide support, but most customers can follow some simple instructions that come along with every device. The devices are all cleared for home use and designed to be simple and safe to operate.
What effect can it have on an individual with Parkinson’s?
Data from several clinical trials and from our patient cohort of over 5,000 PwP shows improvements across a wide spectrum of motor and non-motor symptoms. Light therapy is proving highly effective at improving sleep, mood, and constipation – even sense of smell. Research trials also show improvements in gait, balance, tremor, upper and lower limb coordination, and even facial expression.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs?
We clearly want to see more support and recognition from the medical fraternity considering the new trial results and safety profile. We are going as fast as we humanly can in running additional, larger scale clinical trials, proving the benefits beyond placebo, and demonstrating the need for solutions instead of excuses. Levadopa therapy is old, not well tolerated and has a limited efficacy profile. Why wouldn’t PwP try a complementary device that improves gut conditions and almost certainly Levadopa efficacy. We are investing significant resources into this area in new 2024 clinical trials.
What events do you participate in?
Even as a small business, we are already active in over 60 countries around the world. We participated in the WPC2023 in Barcelona, on numerous podcasts and webinars and in collaborations with leading global research institutions. SYMB YX is building an outreach pilot program with a couple of Parkinson’s communities in the developing world to bringing effective relief to thousands in a safe, collaborative and scalable manner. Our CEO, Dr Wayne Markman, is a global advocate for PwP and for constant learning and self-advocacy. He is dedicated to encouraging all PwP not to give up and to be proactive in understanding the latest medical, diet, supplemental, exercise and now light therapy advice. These modalities are all evidence based and effective at reducing symptoms, including rates of progression.
How does this also assist the caregivers?
We acknowledge that behind almost every successful PwP is at least one dedicated carer and possibly even a team. The broad, evidence-based advice that SYMBYX offers PwP is applicable to every member of that team.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
How can others also become advocates for awareness?
Advocates come in all shapes, colors, sizes, ethnicities, and religions. We are agnostic about all of this and believe that advocates are everywhere, in every community. You don’t need a white coat and stethoscope to be an advocate. The minimum criteria, however, is an open, constantly learning mind. There is already so much great evidence out there to assist PwP live a much healthier and fuller life. The challenge really is in sifting through the myriad of complex data, tables, presentations, and science speak. SYMBYX is committed to assisting people in becoming more aware of their options. Because light therapy is relatively new and novel in Parkinson’s, SYMBYX very familiar with entrenched views and biases. So, we must be impenetrable, persistent, dogged and optimistic. There is no choice for us and for all PwP. We wish to lift them all up, not depress them any further!
Is light therapy research based?
Yes – by next year (2024), SYMBYX will have completed 4 clinical trials with publications in leading peer reviewed journals and commenced 3 additional large scale RCTs investigating motor, non-motor, and medication efficacy implications of infrared laser treatment to the gut. A major focus of our research program is to demonstrate that light therapy to the gut will improve medication efficacy – effectively reduce the “off” period. We are very motivated to share this data with the global Parkinson’s community.
In your opinion what is the key to effective advocacy?
Be very clear about your superpower and turn this into action with a clear mission and some goals in mind. This doesn’t need to be on a global scale, or even as community leader – it might simply be that you become the best possible advocate for yourself or someone you care for. By learning and reading widely, for example, you will be in a much better position to take advantage of the available, free advice all around us as well as demanding better care from your Parkinson’s doctor. Don’t put up with ignorance and tunnel views – ask about light therapy, exercise tips and meal recommendation. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, change your team!
How can we better fundraise to support a cure for Parkinson’s?
There is relatively little focus currently on the economic rationale for a major investment into Parkinson’s therapies and cures. Governments understand rationale financial arguments. Alzheimer’s dementia, even Multiple Sclerosis make better, more cohesive arguments than Parkinson’s.
Why should people who don’t have Parkinson’s care about this?
Technology has the capacity to improve quality of life for millions of people worldwide. Light therapy for Parkinson’s is a new technological breakthrough based on +120 years of successfully treating people with light (for jaundice, TB, smallpox scarring, depression, dermatitis, etc). Don’t simply reject something you don’t understand when you can read and learn.
Have you had any family members or relatives affected by Parkinson’s disease?
Father-in-law, grandfather, aunt, uncle, great friend.
If you had one song that would tell us more about you or represent your life, which song would it be?
Don’t stop me now (Queen).
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
Have a constant, open, learning mind and demand more!