This morning, Finland and Palo Alto-based Meru Health, maker of a mental health platform, landed $4.2 million in seed funding. The new money comes from Freestyle Capital, Bonit Capital, Y Combinator, Lifeline Ventures and IT-Farm.
Meru offers a digital tool that is supported by licensed therapists. The program lasts 12 weeks, and each week has a different theme that builds on the previous one. In addition to the program, users have access to therapists, whom they can reach out to during the 12-week program. Users also have access to anonymous peer support groups. The program targets people dealing with depression, burnout and anxiety.
On the provider side, clinicians are able to refer their patients to the service. The startup also works with employers, offering employee screenings, the 12-week program and support of therapy services.
The company’s platform has been a part of a number of studies and pilots. In January, news broke that the acceptability, feasibility and efficacy of Meru’s platform would be evaluated in a new two-year investigation conducted by Stanford Medicine and VA Palo Alto Health Care Systems researchers.
The platform has also been tested in specific populations. A year ago the company teamed up with Now Finnish Student Health System and eClinicalHealth to study the efficacy and feasibility of using the platform to help college-aged students with depression.
Additionally, in 2017 Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), a healthcare organization that is part of Sutter Health in California, used a digital program to combat burnout and depression among physicians.
WHAT IT’S FOR
The startups said the new money will be put towards additional clinical validation and preparations for a larger rollout to health systems and employers.
Mental health tools have become one of the cornerstones of the digital health world. The somewhat crowded field has come under fire recently when it comes to validating tools. In March Nature Digital Medicine published a study, in which researchers found a majority of the popular mental health apps did not provide evidence or peer-reviewed studies to back up their products.
While Meru has put a focus on clinical validation — both with this funding announcement and previous partnerships — that isn’t always true of mental health tools.
“There are lot of opportunities for patients to receive bad care through apps right now,” Jennifer Gentile, SVP of US clinical operations of Ieso Digital Health, said during a panel at the World Medical Innovation Forum in Boston earlier this month. “It is very important that it is evidence-based care and not given by unlicensed clinicians, or given by a job coach or someone who really wants to give advice, but rather someone that has training, has patient experience, and [that] there [is] a lot of [evidence] assuring this is good care.”
ON THE RECORD
“Having met with scores of mental health startups over the last year, it was Meru’s full stack hybrid approach plus Kristian and his team’s dedication that spurred Freestyle’s decision to lead Meru’s seed. The clinical validation from a large peer-reviewed study plus impressive execution with Fortune 100 companies sealed the deal and made us confident that Meru Health’s solution will be attractive to employers and health plans and deliver for users. They’ve built a great solution, assembled an experienced team and engaged some of the most prestigious healthcare systems to test the technology. We are so excited to be working with Meru Health as they tackle one of the biggest health issues in the country,” Josh Felser, founder of Freestyle Capital, said in a statement.