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Oui Therapeutics eyes platform potential for suicide prevention app

Illustration of a brain which is divided at the center and has a pixelated half

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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.

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