Pear Therapeutics acquires new VR therapeutics, licenses CBT, vocal biomarker tech with flurry of new deals

New agreements with five different tech companies and research organizations aim to expand and flesh out the digital therapeutics maker's product pipeline.
By Dave Muoio
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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional statements from Pear Therapeutics.

Pear Therapeutics pulled back the curtain this morning on a number of new deals between the prescription digital therapeutics maker and other tech companies or researchers.

Ranging from virtual reality therapies to voice biomarker tech, the moves appear to be an effort from Pear to add new products to its arsenal and enhance some of those already gestating in its pipeline.

“As you’ve seen in the past, we’ve been aggressive when it comes to partnering with academics and other companies to really bring the best technologies that are out there onto our platform, and I think today’s announcement is very much of the same," Dr. Corey McCann, president and CEO of Pear, told MobiHealthNews. "If you look at the different assets that we’ve brought in, it’s really a smattering of therapeutic technologies that allow us to move outside of brain-related conditions; it’s a set of algorithms that allow us to enhance the efficacy of our products; and it’s a set of digital biomarkers that really allow us to get to things like dose tailoring and specific tailoring of prescription digital therapeutics in real time.”

At the top of the announcements was the acquisition of two pain relief therapies from healthcare VR company Firsthand Technology. The the first, called “Cool!,” distracts patients from pain or anxiety by having the user play games with virtual otters in a remote snowy landscape, and has been evaluated in clinical studies dating as far back as 2000. The second, called “Glow!,” saw its first proof-of-concept clinical studies published in 2015, and instead has users practice mindfulness and self-control while gathering virtual fireflies.

“Firsthand has set the gold standard for clinical efficacy of VR analgesia through over 20 years of development and clinical trials in acute and chronic pain,” Firsthand wrote in a notice regarding the product acquisitions on their website. ”These clinical studies have shown that VR analgesia can significantly reduce pain, reduce drugs, and reduce the cost of healthcare.”

Following these announcements was news of two licensing agreements between Pear and academic institutions.

From Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the digital therapeutics company has licensed a digital migraine headache treatment that employs cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and patient education. With Stockholm, Sweden-based Karolinska Institute, Pear has licensed content for another CBT-based digital therapeutic that “has demonstrated clinical utility in four randomized studies in over 600 patients with irritable bowel syndrome,” the company wrote in its announcement.

Of note, Karolinska Institute and Pear will also be collaborating to develop additional product candidates for gastrointestinal and autoimmune disorders. McCann was quick to stress that both of these deals involve "early stage candidates" still in need of additional investigation.

Not to settle for VR therapies and CBT alone, the digital therapeutics company also cut deals with two voice biomarker companies: Toronto-based Winterlight Labs and Boston-based NeuroLex Laboratories.

The former will be licensing its speech-based machine learning tech for cognitive health analysis to Pear, which plans to clinically validate digital voice biomarkers for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression and — notably for Pear — substance and opioid use disorders. NeuroLex, which makes a voice survey distribution platform, will be working with Pear to develop a real-world data library that can be used to evaluate the efficacy of Pear’s various therapies.

WHY IT MATTERS

Pear has made it clear over the years that it wants to develop a full pipeline of prescription digital therapeutic products, rather than specializing in a single clinical indication or modality. Take VR for instance — the company has conducted pilot studies of its reCALL product for PTSD alongside the University of Southern California. The acquisition of two more VR therapies, one with a long history of clinical evaluation, suggests that the company hasn’t yet been scared away from the immersive technology.

The vocal biomarker deals, however, also suggest that Pear is interested in refining its existing batch of experimental and released therapies. Winterlight’s machine learning tech in particular could be a natural fit for digital products like Pear’s when considering their unique potential for biomarker-driven feedback loops and adaptive therapies.

“We are absolutely thinking about and are in the process of adding technologies like these and digital biomarkers to our marketed products as well as our development-stage product candidates," McCann said. "I think for the purposes of today I can’t speak to more specific details … but these are technologies that really have the opportunity to work across our pipeline of products.”

THE LARGER TREND

Pear is best known for reSET and reSET-O, two prescription digital therapeutic treatments that the company launched commercially in 2018 and 2019 with the support of Novartis’ Sandoz. And while that commercialization arrangement with the pharma company eventually petered out, Pear has said that it is well equipped to continue development and distribution of its digital products.

With this in mind, the digital therapeutics maker has continued to maintain or sign new product development agreements with Novartis, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and, as of today’s news, several others. It also announced last summer that Somryst, its chronic insomnia and depression treatment, would be the first software as a medical device product to put the FDA’s PreCert framework through its paces.