Oxford University VR spinout lands $4.1M for mental health product

Oxford VR, a virtual reality platform to treat mental health issues, has landed $4.1M to commercialize its technology.
By Laura Lovett
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Looking to commercialize its virtual reality mental health treatment, Oxford VR has announced that it raked in $4.11 (£3.2 million) in funding. Investors included Oxford Sciences Innovation, University of Oxford, Force Over Mass, RT Capital, and GT Healthcare Capital Partners. 

"Our focus is on developing clinically validated, cost-effective, user-centred treatments for clinical conditions with significant impact on patients, the health system, and wider economy. That means targeting complex conditions such as psychosis and social anxiety," Barnaby Perks, CEO of Oxford VR, said in a statement. "I am delighted to lead a company that will transform mental health for millions by combining state-of-the-art immersive technology with world-class science from the University of Oxford.”

The Oxford University spinout plans to use the new money to grow its VR platform and bring the technology to market. The company started out by focusing on using VR to treat individuals with a phobia of heights. Its technology is now being deployed in select NHS locations. 

The technology was used in a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry in July. Researchers set out to study the effectiveness of VR therapy that was delivered through a virtual coach instead of an in-person clinician. 

“Instead of a real-life therapist, we used a computer-generated avatar to guide users through a cognitive treatment program,” Daniel Freeman, CCO of Oxford VR and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “On average, people spent around two hours in VR over five treatment sessions.”

The study looked at 100 people with a long-term fear of heights. Participants were either treated with VR therapy or were not treated at all. The treatment group reported fear reduction by an average of 68 percent. 

“VR has extraordinary potential to transform psychological wellbeing. It could bring the most effective and psychologically smart techniques, used in only a few specialist centers, to many millions of people via head mounted displays and smartphones,”  Freeman told MobiHealthNews' sister publication British Journal of Healthcare Computing last year. “We know the best way to overcome a problem is via active coaching in the troubling situations; with VR we can repeatedly present versions of the difficult situations and guide the person in the best ways to think, feel, and behave. But VR is not an answer in itself: the content matters. The best psychological science has to be combined with sophisticated VR programming, with the user experience at the heart of design.”