Oui Therapeutics eyes platform potential for suicide prevention app
Market correction notwithstanding, the timing is just right for suicide prevention app developer Oui Therapeutics to consider its platform potential, CEO Seth Feuerstein tells Axios.
Why it matters: Long perceived as an untreatable condition, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. (among people 10 to 34, it's the second).
- Oui hopes to change that as it mulls where it might eventually fit within the larger telemental health ecosystem.
- Feuerstein thinks a range of players, from traditional health care giants to Big Tech companies, might see Oui as a good telemental health entry point, assuming it ultimately shows lives — and costs — saved.
- "When our products are on the market, could I see us being a powerful engine for an Optum or a CVS?" says Feuerstein. "Or if a company like Lyra wanted to get into digital therapeutics? Yeah, I could see that."
State of play: Earlier this month, Oui announced a $26 million fundraise from CVS Health Ventures, Otsuka U.S. and First Round Capital.
- Flare Capital Partners, Polaris Partners and Athyrium Capital Management also joined the round.
- Proceeds will be used to develop and launch its app, which it has been testing in clinical trials.
- "It was important to me to have the best tech talent and First Round had that network," Feuerstein says. "They’d had a lot of success with companies like Flatiron Health, they were really technology-focused."
Context: Despite an overall slowdown in funding for telemental health companies, startups developing digital therapeutics — prescription treatments for acute mental illnesses — are beginning to see a spike in investor interest.
- Some players have gone public in recent months as commercialization speeds up.
- Akili Interactive, developer of video games for ADHD, in January entered into a definitive agreement to go public via a SPAC with Chamath Palihapitiya's Social Capital Suvretta Holdings Corp. at a $1 billion valuation.
- Pear Therapeutics (Nasdaq: PEAR), last December merged with SPAC Thimble Point Acquisition Corp. at a valuation of $1.6 billion.
Oui, and: Venture dollars are also flowing freely to digital health companies focused on low-acuity mental illnesses.
- Lyra Health collected $235 million in January.
- Brightline Health raised $105 million in March.
How it works: The Oui app gives users a series of virtual tasks — most of them based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — aimed at helping people curb hopelessness, regulate their emotions and familiarize them with reaching out for help.
- The health care system's method of tackling suicide prevention today is "like if you showed up at a cancer center and they said, 'Sorry, you have a malignant tumor; we only treat benign tumors,'" says Feuerstein. "We hope with a prescription product, clinicians will embrace patients."
One fun thing: It's no accident that the French word for yes phonetically mirrors the English word "we."
- "We need multiple stakeholders working together who don’t normally work together — scientists, payers, etc.," says Feuerstein. "Rather than paying subject matter experts and having non-clinical leaders build the company, we’re doing the opposite."
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 — or text message or call 988.