Genentech, Facebook vet launches behavioral health startup Lyra Health

By Jonah Comstock
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DavidEbersman1 David Ebersman

Lyra Health, a startup that launched last week, will focus on addressing the gaps in the healthcare system surrounding behavioral health conditions like anxiety and depression. David Ebersman, former CFO of Facebook and Genentech, will helm the new company, which already has seed funding from Ebersman and venture capital firm Venrock. Ebersman's co-founder, Chief Medical Officer Dena Bravata, formerly served in the same role at Castlight Health.

"Behavioral health is a really big and important problem," Ebersman told MobiHealthNews. "The system really doesn’t work very well and because of that we have many millions of people walking around undiagnosed, millions more who are diagnosed but not getting treated, and millions more still who are being treated but with therapies that aren’t working. This is kind of the center of the problem that we’re trying to work on."

Currently, Ebersman said, the average time between diagnosis and seeking treatment for a person with anxiety is 11 years. For depression it's three years. Basically a primary care physician gives a referral and then the person with the behavioral health condition -- who is often unmotivated as a result of the condition -- is on their own to navigate a confusing path to finding a therapist or treatment that works for them.

"What we want to develop is technology that enables us to identify people who are at risk of behavioral health problems and in need of behavioral health treatments. We want to develop technology that enables us to most effectively match people with care that’s available, meets their needs, and is likely to help them," Ebersman said, noting that the platform would likely include options like video visits and computerized therapy. "The [other] thing we want to do is to build tech that enables us to track outcomes, so that if people are being treated, we can see whether or not the treatment is working, take corrective action if not, and learn from it if it is. And apply that learning to future patients."

Lyra Health will work with employers and health plans to address the population of people with underdiagnosed behavioral health conditions. Although Ebersman expects patients will interact with the platform through a combination of phone calls and mobile apps, the specific details of the platform are still being developed. Lyra is aggressively hiring engineers and developers.

"We view this as a really interesting and complicated technology problem and we are planning to build the company as one that taps into the best minds in terms of software engineering and data science that we can find in the fertile environment in Silicon Valley," Ebersman said. "We’re very pleased with the initial team we’ve assembled and we want to build out the quality of the organization."

Ebersman says health plans and employers will buy in because behavioral health problems have a large cost footprint on healthcare overall, largely because behavioral health conditions are often comorbid with chronic physical health conditions.

"If you have diabetes, you are twice as likely to suffer from depression as the general population, and if you have diabetes and depression, you on average will be three to five times more expensive than a diabetic who is not suffering from depression," he explained. "And when you think about it, that makes pretty good sense because if you’re depressed, you’re probably less well-equipped to manage the behavioral things you have to do to manage your diabetes: diet, exercise, medication compliance, etc. And if you don’t manage those things then your diabetes will progress to the expensive complications that come later."