Oct 26, 2022 - News

South Florida startup treating depression with ketamine to expand

Illustration of bottle of antidepressant drug Ketamine with a sad face turning into a happy face.

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A North Miami-based telemedicine company at the forefront of treating depression with ketamine is expanding beyond Florida.

Driving the news: Toronto-based medical research firm, Braxia Scientific Corp., recently acquired KetaMD for about $6 million with plans to roll out its at-home ketamine treatments to several states, including California, New York and Texas, this year, TechCrunch reports.

The big picture: Ketamine, MDMA, LSD and psilocybin — the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — have shown promise in treating mental health disorders, including treatment-resistant depression, Axios' Alison Snyder and Bryan Walsh report.

Yes, but: There are challenges to administering ketamine treatment, which requires monitoring.

  • Telemedicine, like KetaMD's digital platform and Miami startup NUE Life Health, has been billed as a potential solution.

How it works: KetaMD screens patients over its digital platform to determine whether they qualify for the ketamine treatment. If approved, a KetaMD medical provider will talk through the option with the patient, the South Florida Business Journal reports.

  • Once dosage is determined, the company mails ketamine troches — lozenges — for patients to take orally at home.
  • Patients must have a friend with them as they take the drug, and a nurse will monitor the treatment via videoconferencing.
  • A session lasts about an hour. KetaMD's website says, ​"It is often described as a journey through one's own mind, where you may encounter beautiful visuals and can access difficult areas of your life from a new angle."

Between the lines: Ketamine is legal for medical use in the U.S. It was approved in 1970 by the Food and Drug Administration for human use as an anesthetic.

  • In 2019, the FDA approved a nasal spray, esketamine, which is made from ketamine, for adults with treatment-resistant depression.
  • In the past few years, clinics have opened up around the country offering ketamine via intravenous treatments.
  • A recent Columbia University study suggests ketamine can help people with suicidal thoughts within 24 hours.

Of note: The ketamine industry is largely unregulated, and the drug is still being studied, with dozens of clinical trials underway.

What they're saying: KetaMD co-founder and CEO Warren Gumpel told Axios he was introduced to the ketamine industry as a patient seeking intravenous treatment, which he said changed his life.

  • However, "It was expensive. It was time consuming. The opportunity cost of going into the clinic made it very difficult for most people to actually get the treatment," he said.
  • And that's in cities, Gumpel added; many rural counties don't even have a psychiatrist.

During the pandemic, when in-person clinic treatments were halted, Gumpel thought: "Why don't we make this into Amazon instead of thinking about this as building Kmarts?"

  • Moving to telemedicine can reduce costs significantly, compared to IV treatments, he said.

Details: An initial consultation with KetaMD costs about $249. A standard protocol consists of six treatments over approximately three weeks and costs about $1,200.

  • The cost of in-person ketamine infusions can range from $400 to $2,000 per session, according to the Delray Center for Healing in South Florida.
  • Insurance does not cover either.

What to watch: Wonderland, a major psychedelic medicine conference, runs Nov. 3-5.


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