Health virtual reality startups BehaVR and OxfordVR merge

Re-envisioning mental health treatment using clinical VR

Two virtual reality startups operating in the health category – BehaVR and OxfordVR – have agreed to pool their efforts on the development of digital therapeutics (DTx) for mental illnesses via a merger.

The combined company will operate under the BehaVR brand, and starts operations with a $13 million cash injection from a Series B financing led by Oxford Science Enterprises and Optum Ventures with participation from Confluent Health, Accenture Ventures, Chrysalis Ventures, and Thornton Capital.

According to the two companies, the new BehaVR will offer "the largest VR delivery platform for evidence-based digital behavioural therapies." It will be led by BehaVR founder and chief executive Aaron Gani, and its leadership team will also feature OxfordVR founder Dr Daniel Freeman.

BehaVR is working on VR-enabled DTx for anxiety, stress, pain, and addiction, based on biometrics and machine learning, and these will complement OxfordVR's pipeline led by gameChange, a virtual psychological therapy designed to provide active coaching to people with psychosis to help them manage anxieties associated with day-to-day life.

gameChange was tested in the largest ever randomised controlled trial of VR mental health, with the results published in The Lancet Psychiatry, and is now being used in some NHS mental health services. In June, OxfordVR received FDA breakthrough device designation for its gameChange.

The company has also conducted one of the largest trials of a VR approach to treat fear of heights, in which 100 people with a phobia stretching back decades were randomly allocated either automated VR therapy or no treatment. All participants in the VR group showed a reduction in their fear of heights, with the average reduction of 68%.

OxfordVR CEO Deepak Gopalakrishna said digital approaches to the management of mental health are at a "critical inflection point, where the onus will be on companies to bring evidence based, clinically validated treatments to patients that providers, payers, and employers can confidently stand behind."

He added that the merger "brings together two of the leading organisations pioneering this work and will enable us to accelerate that future."

BehaVR, meanwhile, has partnered with Japan's Sumitomo Pharma to develop and commercialise DTx for social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder in a $163 million alliance unveiled last year.

It is thought to be one of the largest collaborations involving digital health and pharma companies in the DTx category.

"The demand for mental health services far outstrips available resources. Providers need help, and that help is available today through our clinically-validated and evidence-based digital programmes," said Gani.

"In bringing together two innovative virtual reality therapeutics teams, we are positioned to serve the widest range of patient populations possible at a time of intense need."