Meru Health is developing its digital clinic into the world’s most effective method for treating depression, anxiety and burnout. Founder Kristian Ranta reports that the results of the first clinical studies are promising: the treatment is effective.
One in five Finns suffer from depression during their lifetimes, and more than half of these recurrently. Pharmacotherapy is easily available but not always effective, while gaining access to psychotherapy generally takes months. Also, patients are not always as committed to the treatment as could be hoped. This is a serious problem because, at worst, depressive disorders can be fatal.
“If only one of every two patients shows improvement with current treatment methods, it must be possible to develop something better. One of the turning points in my life was losing my big brother to depression. It made me stop and think. After that I left Mendor, a healthcare technology company I’d founded and headed as CEO for five years. I decided to establish Meru Health in order to combine two issues close to my heart – technology and healthcare,” explains Ranta.
Phone-in therapy and support group
Riku Lindholm, who had previously worked with Ranta, joined him as a business partner, and then they invited coding wizard Albert Nazander to be the third partner. Next, the team was strengthened with psychiatrists, mindfulness teachers and general practitioners.
“We’re licensed by Valvira – Finland’s National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health – to operate as a mental healthcare clinic with certified professionals responsible for the healthcare provided to patients. We offer telemedicine services treating depression, anxiety and work-related burnout. Our treatment programme combines psychological treatment modules, personal therapy support and an anonymous peer support group,” says Ranta.
Ranta is also motivated by first-hand experience of the benefits of psychotherapy, meditation and mindfulness techniques. He feels they could be beneficial to anyone.
Meru Health’s digital clinic treats patients by phone so they do not have to physically travel to the clinic’s reception desk. Regardless of their geographical location, patients receive treatment within a few days. The treatment programme is tailored to each individual’s situation and needs.
Research studies prove efficacy
From the outset, Meru Health has set its sights on international markets. The company collaborates with the University of Helsinki in Finland and Stanford University in the USA. The founders believe that evidence-based scientific research is essential to the credibility of the method. It also projects the company’s strong commitment to responsibility.
“How could we otherwise demonstrate the efficacy of our activities? The first clinical study was published in January, and two other research papers are currently undergoing peer review. The results show that our method works. According to the first study, mitigation of the symptoms of depression was proportional to the number of practical exercises completed daily and to the level of activity in the peer support group,” points out Ranta.
“We measure the impact of treatment for depression as a percentage success rate. We aim to raise that rate at first to over the current 50% and then to 80–90%. It’s not realistic to think that all patients could be fully cured. Nevertheless, the target in treating depression could be the same as in treating diabetes and other major widespread diseases: balanced treatment that stabilises the patient,” he adds.
What pearls of wisdom have Ranta and his partners discovered? Why is the digital clinic’s form of treatment more effective than other forms?
“We approach the problem holistically, from different perspectives. In addition to world-class therapeutic and medical expertise, we also have technological knowhow that we apply to making treatment targets more achievable. I believe also that we can boost patients’ commitment to their treatment, too,” says Ranta.
Customers are corporations and insurance companies
Meru Health does not market its product to private customers but instead aims for cooperation agreements with large employers and insurance companies. If, one of Finland’s largest insurance companies, announced in June that it will start cooperation with Meru Health. In California, Meru has two pilot projects in progress, while in Colorado it is already cooperating with Mines & Associates. It was a rocky path at the beginning.
“In Finland we received financing from Lifeline Ventures and Reaktor Ventures right from the start, but catching the attention of American investors proved to be more challenging. On our sixth funding round we teamed up with Y Combinator, generally regarded as the world’s best business incubator, and we worked through their programme last summer. We found new investors that way.”
“Publication of our first clinical study in January also greatly speeded up our progress. In the seed round completed in April we secured USD 4.2 million in funding that will enable us to continue on our growth trajectory,” comments Ranta.
If Ranta could change one thing in Finland for the better, he would make psychotherapeutic treatment costs reimbursable via the public health system, just like pharmaceutical medicines and other treatments are currently. The rules applied by Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, require three month’s treatment at the patient’s own cost before reimbursement eligibility, which is a very high threshold for the mentally ill.
What it is: A company established in the USA in early 2016 that has developed a digital care programme for treating depression, anxiety and work-related burnout. The founders are Kristian Ranta, Riku Lindholm and Albert Nazander. The company operated under the name of Blooming up until summer 2016.
Who and where: Helsinki, Finland, and Palo Alto, California. The digital clinic is a mobile application that is independent of geographical location. Altogether 14 full-time and 8 part-time staff.
Financing: Y Combinator, Lifeline Ventures, Reaktor Ventures, Freestyle Capital, Leksell Social Ventures, among others. Tesi has invested in Lifeline’s funds.
Who he is: Founder and CEO of Meru Health
Education: Master’s Degree (Information Systems and Economics) from the University of Jyväskylä. Studied work psychology and management at Aalto University and information technology and economics at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences.
Earlier business activities: In 2006 Ranta co-founded Mendor, a company based on new technology for measuring blood sugar that specialised in software for use by diabetes patients and clinics. Mendor sold its equipment business to a Korean diagnostics manufacturer in 2015, and Ranta left the company that same year.
Special: Ranta holds four patents, three relating to blood sugar measurement and the fourth, granted this year, to his current business. In his youth he was guitarist and composer of the Finnish melodic death metal band Norther.
Ranta’s blog in Forbes magazine: https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2019/02/22/mental-health-hacks-for-entrepreneurs/#2a3ece8f513d