SBRI Healthcare, the NHS England funded initiative championed by the AHSN Network, has announced the programme’s latest round of funding is supporting companies to develop novel solutions to tackle the challenges of mental illness.
Sharing in £700K investment, the seven successful companies have all demonstrated the potential of their innovations to help alleviate the current pressures on mental health services and support positive mental health. Areas of particular focus were ‘Children and Young People’s Mental Health’, ‘Depression, Self-harm and Suicide’ and ‘New Models of Care’.
Among the winning technologies:
- An immersive gaming technology to improve access to, and effectiveness of, current frontline treatments of children’s anxiety, using gamification to increase therapy adherence.
- A voice-operated ‘conversational’ smartphone app designed to deliver a purpose-built cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme to treat anxiety in adolescents.
- A software platform that can automatically create and deliver personalised virtual reality (VR) content to address mental health issues that lead to depression, self-harm and suicide.
- A digital support programme using innovative methods for enhancing the role of the young peer supporter through a multi-media training portal and online supervision chat room to reduce use of specialist services and help address the stigma associated with mental health.
Each project has received funding in the range of £84,000 to £100,000 and will aim to demonstrate technical feasibility over a six-month development phase.
Professor Chris Hollis, Chair of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Director, NIHR MindTech MedTech Co-operative commented: “A significant proportion of mental health problems in adults start early in life and therefore interventions in childhood are essential to avert the development of long-term problems. Furthermore, only about one quarter of children and young people with mental health problems currently receive any treatment. The successful companies who presented to the review board could really benefit children and young adults with innovations that have potential to increase access, provide more efficient and flexible services and improve outcomes.”
Stuart Monk, Director of Delivery at South West AHSN added: “Positive awareness for mental health is on the rise and more people are accessing specialist mental health services. Whilst progress is being made to reduce waiting times it is important we encourage new ideas that can benefit patients seeking help. The AHSN Network is looking forward to working with the winners of this latest SBRI Healthcare competition to support them in making a real impact.”
The list of supported companies are:
BfB Labs: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a well-evidenced approach recommended for treating anxiety in children, but it is expensive to deliver, and patients often face long waiting times for treatments. BfB Labs is developing new immersive gaming technology to improve access to, and effectiveness of, current frontline treatments of children’s anxiety, using gamification to increase adherence to therapeutic protocols. The innovation combines the latest understanding of anxiety management in young people with what BfB Labs has learned about creating engaging and immersive games to develop a new anxiety management product – fun to use, with high adherence, and an evidence base to support use alongside therapy.
Cadscan Ltd: Children and young people with mental illness wait an average of ten years before receiving help. Rates of depression and anxiety amongst young people have increased by 70% in the last 25 years. Anxiety disorders are common and are associated with suicidal behaviours, drug and alcohol misuse and poor educational attainment. PhoBot is a voice-operated conversational agent designed to deliver a purpose-built CBT programme to treat anxiety in adolescents. It is built around a natural, low-friction interface to facilitate engagement and efficacy and delivered via smartphone using a low-cost pricing model.
emteq Ltd: Measuring facial expressions (FE) and emotions has the potential to revolutionise the management of healthcare issues. Changes in FE or emotional responses are features of depression, bipolar disorder, and social anxiety. Detecting FE with cameras does not allow ambulatory monitoring. For this feasibility project, emteq will develop a glasses-based emotion and behavioural monitoring platform and evaluate it with patients with major depression. MOODspecs will enable accurate measurement of emotional FEs, voice analysis, physical activity monitoring and heart rate variability. This will enable earlier identification of treatment responses, stratification of patients into clinical sub-types and earlier intervention in non-responders.
Mayden House Ltd: By comparing the profile of a new patient entering a service with the wealth of historical patient data available, Mayden House will employ machine learning techniques to recommend appropriate treatments – including direct and instant access to digital therapies – with a view to significantly improving both waiting times and outcomes for patients, and lowering costs. This will be achieved by standardising and automating the assessment process at the point of referral and using the data collected nationally to signpost available treatment options that typically result in positive outcomes for patients with similar profiles.
Sentireal Ltd: Virtual reality (VR) is emerging as an effective medium for treating a variety of mental health conditions. However the content shown in VR tends to be pre-authored and one-size-fits-all, therefore lacking the personalised and tailored qualities that are necessary for effective recovery and maintenance of mental health. This project will create a software platform that can automatically create and deliver personalised virtual reality content to address mental health issues that lead to depression, self-harm and suicide. The patient’s actions and attitudes inside VR are automatically analysed and may be referred back to clinicians for diagnostic and treatment adjustment purposes.
UDAMO Ltd: A novel automation of Cognitive Restructuring (CR) that has potential to revolutionise mobile-delivered Cognitive Therapy. The automation of CR will allow patients to receive therapeutic content that adapts to their life circumstances without the involvement of a human therapist.
XenZone Ltd : XenZone’s aim is to engage young people in peer supporting roles, through digital training, moderation and supervision. Peer support is a successful method of accelerating a therapeutic process and therefore, the journey to wellness, as well as sustaining that wellness. Utilising XenZone’s existing online portal, the company is creating innovative methods for enhancing the role of the young peer supporter through a multi-media training portal and online supervision chat room. Outcomes measures will range from economic evaluation focusing on reduction of specialist service use, to the positive impact on peer supporter and wider community including stigma reduction.