Former Humana CTO Shares VR Go-To-Market Strategies

Aaron Gani’s virtual reality business includes paid solutions for behavioral health “meta comorbidities.”

“I’ve been a tech nerd my whole life. I’ve always worked in technology, creating new apps and experiences.”

The desire to go further and create his own business led him aaron win left his role as Humana’s chief technology officer and founded BehaVR, a digital therapies (DTx) company that applies “the neurological power of virtual reality” to curb anxiety disorders and chronic illness on a massive scale.

“I always wanted to have my own business and I just couldn’t anymore,” Gani says, adding, “What’s the only good reason to start a business.”

Gani’s technology advancement work at Humana, “looking into the future and thinking about how different technologies would affect the things we might do to understand and improve the health of our members,” put behavioral health and virtual reality in his Radar. The result is a problem-solution-market fit that, for many health technology startups, now includes payers among their B2B target segments.

the side of the problem

Behavioral health “metamorbidities” are Gani’s focus.

“Because of my role at Humana, I became aware of this cluster of things that so many people are dealing with related to stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and substance use disorders. It’s this big comorbid bundle that is connected to a whole range of other chronic conditions.

Gani, also CEO of BehaVR, focuses on both the human and industry sides of the problem.

“Where there is so much pain and suffering, there is also a lot of additional consumption of resources in the health system. It is a great opportunity to improve lives and create value.”

“For me,” he adds, “that was the right problem to tackle.”

The solution and the sides of the market.

“At first, it was just a hunch, but as I researched further, I found ample evidence over a 20-year period of the unique neurological advantages of the VR medium,” says Gani, who explains how the technology works.

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“Anything we do on a 2D screen, whether it’s a smartphone, a laptop, a big-screen TV, or an IMAX theater, it doesn’t matter, your brain processes all of that essentially the same way, which is it’s not you. going on; you’re just looking at it,” he explains.

Virtual reality is completely different.

“We are replacing your sensory inputs, mainly visual and auditory. The only way your brain has to process that simulation is as a new reality,” he adds. This involves activating the brain’s fight or flight mechanisms and removing distractions to trigger arousal (exposure therapy) or calming responses.

“That’s really powerful when you apply it to behavioral and mental health care.”

Gani believes these benefits align with multiple industry tailwinds, including the rise of tech-enabled consumerism in health care and digital fitness.

“Fitness in VR is exploding. A huge chunk of Apple’s app store revenue comes from fitness. And it’s the most retentive app or type of experience in VR. People are spending more time in reality virtual exercising than the players.

Other tailwinds include better and more accessible virtual reality technology and a growing interest in the metaverse.

“This kind of metaverse moment that we’re all living through, it’s not a surprise to us at this company,” says Gani.

Use the wellness market as an entry point

There are also headwinds, including what is still the early days of VR and DTx adoption. But BehaVR is targeting multiple therapeutic areas and avenues to market to account for them.

The company has used virtual reality wellness products as an entry point to collect the real-world evidence (RWE) that payers and other prospects, including DTx, want. “Virtual reality wellness products cast a very wide net and help a lot of people at a very low cost,” says Gani.

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He adds, “If you’re going to expect people to adopt your solutions in the healthcare space, you better be evidence-based; you better design your products from proven science and be prepared to test the results.” “.

Current BehaVR products include NourishVR Y SNP+ (Education in Neuroscience of Pain+). NurtureVR is an immersive maternal health and wellness program “designed to support moms-to-be and their families through the third trimester, labor and delivery experience, and postpartum phases.” PNE+ focuses on pain management through a “progressive and personalized program designed to help physical therapists reduce patients’ pain catastrophizing score.”

Delivery of clinical and cost results

NurtureVR and PNE+ do not rise to the level of Prescription Digital Therapies (PDTx) nor do they require authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This was intentional on BehaVR’s part.

“Starting with wellness allowed us to iterate, quickly jump between platforms, and embed learning into the data set like the [VR] technology is becoming more consumer-grade, low-cost, and highly available,” says Gani.

He adds: “Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), which are really just charts to demonstrate safety and efficacy, are not necessarily enough to convince key decision makers, be they clinicians or payers, that your program should be adopted. You have to go beyond that to real-world evidence of clinical efficacy.”

“Beyond that, particularly for taxpayers now, you have to show the economic results and the savings. I think that is reasonably well understood in the DTx space. It has to, and there are no shortcuts. It’s one thing to try some of the criteria of valuation in an RCT. But what about revenue over six or 12 months? Does your solution really change lives in a persistent way?”

Expansion of clinical partners and pathways

“We build all of our programs with great clinical partners who have a lot of experience in the field,” says Gani. “It’s about how it meets the market in terms of clinical design and utility, as well as go-to-market and commercialization models.”

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These partners include Complement Health for BehaVR’s chronic pain programs; Dr Eric Garland and its proprietary MORE (Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement) intervention for opioid misuse and chronic pain; and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma for anxiety and depression.

“We have a very deep partnership with Sumitomo youor jointly develop and market our therapies for anxiety and depression, starting in the US, but eventually around the world.”

The partnership reflects BehaVR’s iteration of wellness product base and focus, as Sumitomo products for social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder will require FDA approval.

“We are now ready to go down these FDA paths which ultimately require a lot more structure, rigor and careful management of change,” says Gani.

The association’s press release adds: “The intent of these three products, in this collaboration, is to be classified as software as a medical device and fall under the FDA regulatory framework that supports the innovation and commercialization of tools. while protecting patient health.

“There’s no one right way to do this,” says Gani. “There are some PDTx companies that have only brought products to market through the FDA route. Then there are others – BehaVR is in this group that has chosen to develop products that avoid making claims about treatment, cure and safety. prevention in order to go to market and get real consumers and physicians to commit.

Adds Gani: “Getting data drives learning. If you jump right into an FDA-approved path, you’re missing the opportunity to engage a lot more people and iterate very quickly on product design and engagement.”

Laura Beerman is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.

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