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Mental health coaching startup Ginger raises $50M

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Ginger, a digital health startup that lets users chat with a mental health coach, raised $50 million in funding in a series D round. Advance Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners led the funding round, with participation from Cigna Ventures, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, and LinkedIn Executive Chairman Jeff Weiner.

David ibnAle, a founding partner with Advance Venture Partners, and Steve Kraus, a partner with Bessemer Venture Partners, will both join Ginger’s board. To date, the company has raised $120 million.

The San Francisco-based startup connects users with coaches through a text-based chat. They can’t provide the same services as a therapist, but they can send users exercises and encourage them to pursue good sleeping habits and meditation, for example.

For patients who would benefit from more care, Ginger can connect them to a video chat with a healthcare provider. The company contracts with psychiatrists and therapists that then work with its coaches.

Like many telehealth startups, Ginger has seen a surge in visits since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first week of July, it saw a 125% increase in use of its coaching service compared to its averages before the pandemic.

“The goal of this system is to solve for the supply-demand imbalance that exists in mental health,” Ginger CEO Russell Glass said in a phone interview. “Even pre-Covid, there are far more people that have a need that can access it today. It can take weeks to months.”

The service is currently only available to users whose employer or health plan include Ginger as a covered benefit. The company says it has 200 clients, including Delta Air Lines, Sanofi and Chegg. Its insurance partnerships include Optum Behavioral Health, Anthem California and Aetna Resources for Living.

Ginger was initially created in 2011 by two MIT researchers, Anmol Madan and Karan Singh, who started off with the idea of using cell phone activity to predict users’ mental health. For example, if someone was depressed, they might not communicate with others like they normally do, or their daily patterns of going to the work, the gym or the grocery store might change. Novant Health, Kaiser Permanente and 20 other health systems partnered on this early concept.

Since then, the company has pivoted to focus more on providing health coaching and therapy services.  It still uses information “for proprietary analysis and development of personalized behavioral profiles,” according to its privacy policy.

Ginger is one of a number of startups providing mental health services using digital tools. Competitor Lyra Health raised $75 million  earlier this year, and struck a partnership with Starbucks. And UnitedHealth’s Optum subsidiary was reportedly planning to acquire mental health startup AbleTo for $470 million.

Photo credit: Microne, Getty Images

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Cala Health raises $50M ahead of commercial launch of its bioelectric stimulation device

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The majority of pharmaceuticals function by altering or adjusting the biological and chemical systems of the body. Cala Health is part of a new breed of companies developing therapeutics that target the body’s electric circuitry instead.

The Burlingame, California-based startup bills itself as a bioelectric medicine company that is using electric signals to stimulate the nervous system as a pathway to treat chronic disease.

Cala has raised a $50 million fundraising round from investors as it prepares for the launch of its Cala Trio device, a wearable device meant to address hand tremors in essential tremor patients. New investors in the Series C round included Novartis, Baird Capital and TriVentures.

Essential tremor is a movement disorder that affects around 7 million people in the United States. Pharmaceutical treatments for the condition are limited, but one procedure that has been shown to improve symptoms has been deep brain stimulation of the thalamus through an electric device.

By electrically targeting the body’s peripheral nervous system at the wrist using its wearable, Cala’s technology is able to stimulate the deep brain and therapeutically reduce tremors without the risks and costs associated with brain surgery.

“There’s been an explosion of knowledge in neuroscience that has allowed us to go from stimulating at the organ to stimulating the circuit to affect the organ,” Cala Health CEO Kate Rosenbluth said. “Our technology is focused on stimulating the right circuit, with the right signal, at the right time.”

Cala’s device has the ability to tune its electrostimulation to patient’s specific tremor and clinical evidence has shown that the technology’s therapeutic effects endure after direct stimulation ends.

The FDA gave de novo clearance for the company’s first generation Cala ONE product in April and in October gave 510(k) clearance for technology in its Cala Trio device.

The company recently completed enrollment in its PROSPECT study, a 500-person single-arm multicenter trial intended to test the company’s wrist worn technology over a three month period.

Cala’s Trio device will be made available in limited release later this year with a physician’s prescription. The company is also developing the infrastructure necessary for telemedicine examination and prescription for its products.

“I feel that bioelectric medicine breaks down the traditional silos between pharma and tech,” Rosenbluth said. “We’re both a device company and we’re delivering the medicine – the electricity – to patients.”

Cala is taking a page from Amazon by acting as its own vertically-integrated direct distributor and shipping products directly to patients to create a more streamlined consumer experience.

To help in its category creation, Cala has enlisted has enlisted strategic investors and advisors from across the consumer technology, medical device and pharmaceutical industries.

The company has raised more than $70 million in total from investors like Johnson & Johnson, Lightstone Ventures, Google Ventures and dRx Capital, a joint venture investing vehicle from Novartis and Qualcomm.

As part of the most recent financing round Lightstone Ventures’ Stacy Enxing Seng will be joining the company’s board as its chair. 

“The genius of Cala is using electricity as medicine but doing so without the need for an implant,” Seng said. “This allows a new paradigm within bioelectric medicine that allows effective treatment but in a form that is far more conducive to what patients want: personalized treatment, accessibility, ease of use, and manageable cost.”

Still, there are unanswered questions about how Cala’s technologies will be integrated into existing healthcare business models. Rosenbluth was vague about the company’s reimbursement strategy and would not share the sales price of the device at launch.

“The most important thing is for patients to be able to get access and we believe that reimbursement is key is product accessibility,” Rosenbluth said. “We’re very much a medical company and we believe that our product should be offered under the care of a physician and should be paid for through reimbursement.”

Neil Tiwari, a general partner at dRx Capital, said he foresees Cala’s development into a platform technology company that has different form factors to target different peripheral nerves.

“It’s exciting to see Cala’s ability to provide a new therapeutic modality using wearable technology,” Tiwari said. “As we see digital therapeutics continue to develop, I view electrical medicine as being a key part of the category.”

Earlier this year, Cala announced a licensing agreement with Partners Healthcare affiliate Massachusetts General Hospital for a new type of neuromodulation technology.

Rosenbluth said the partnership was “only the first” of similar deals for the company as it looks to expand its products across the initial focus areas of cardiology, neurology and psychiatry.

Picture: mrspopman, Getty Images

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Prevail Therapeutics raises $50M for gene therapy in Parkinson’s, other neurodegenerative disorders

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genomics

A company developing gene therapies for neurodegenerative diseases has closed a round of financing that it hopes will bring it into clinical development.

New York-based Prevail Therapeutics said Wednesday that it had raised $50 million in a Series B round, with Surveyor Capital and AbbVie Ventures joining a list of investors that also includes OrbiMed, Pontifax, RA Capital Management, EcoR1 Capital, Omega Funds, BVF Partners, Boxer Capital, Adage Capital Management and Alexandria Venture Investments. The company, which launched in 2017, has raised $129 million to date, it said.

According to its website, the company’s focus is on developing adeno-associated viral vector-based gene therapies for diseases like Parkinson’s disease. Its hypothesis is that by restoring healthy lysosomal function to the cells of a patient’s nervous system, it can stop the progression of a disease. To that end, it has in-licensed Regenxbio’s NAV AAV9 vector for Parkinson’s and other, related diseases.

The only currently approved gene therapy, Spark Therapeutics’ Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec), for a rare form of blindness, is also based on an AAV vector, whereby specially engineered viruses transfect a cell and insert a corrected gene into them. Spark is also exploring gene therapies for neurodegenerative and central nervous system diseases, particularly CLN2 disease and Huntington’s disease, along with undisclosed diseases, all of which are in preclinical development.

Other efforts to develop viral vector-based gene therapies for Parkinson’s disease have taken place as well, both commercially and academically. One company developing such a therapy is Voyager Therapeutics, which has an AAV-based gene therapy, VY-AADC, in Phase II development, under a partnership with Neurocrine Biosciences. In the 42-patient trial, participants are randomized in a double-blind fashion to receive either the gene therapy or placebo via a surgical procedure.

On the academic front, Japan’s Jichi Medical University has a Phase I/II study of an AAV-based gene therapy that is enrolling six patients and is set to complete in January 2022.

Photo: jxfzsy, Getty Images

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