In an interview with Medical Technology, Dr. Ross Harper, co-founder, and CEO of Limbic discusses how AI tech can impact mental health assessment. The interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Catherine Longworth:

What was your vision when developing Limbic Access for mental health care? 

Dr. Ross Harper: 

Our mission from the beginning has always been that we want to use technology to make the highest quality mental health care available to everybody everywhere, regardless of their socio-economic background. 

AI is the perfect technology to make this world a reality so we began building something that can continuously learn about a patient’s mental state – whether through clinical screening questions, free text conversational data or a variety of other data streams. We combine this with algorithms in the background which deliver the probability of possible mental health issues that the patient might be experiencing. 

One crucial piece of the puzzle we had to solve was how are we going to make sure this is used safely in a clinical setting? The answer could have been around substituting humans with AI but that wasn’t appropriate in the case of our technology. Instead, we focused on how we can use AI alongside trained mental health professionals to augment the therapy process and empower them to support more people. 

The system algorithms help manage the self-referral by doing an initial analysis and identifying symptoms of mental illness and this can then be shared with the clinician in a way that allows them to really get to the root of the patient’s issue faster and identify the most appropriate treatment pathway from there on. But the final step in using machine learning models is ensuring they are regulated appropriately to meet the highest clinical and technical standards. That’s why our Class IIa medical device certification is important – it independently verifies that we can do, what we say, and that we can be used as an integral tool in psychotherapy. 

Catherine Longworth:

Do you see this certification as significant for the evolution of the digital mental health space and AI therapy? 

Dr. Ross Harper: 

Yes, it’s a landmark as this is first of its kind. It’s also exciting as this is one of the first examples of AI working alongside clinicians in psychotherapy. The amalgamation of AI and human therapist is the future and the only way to safely deliver these sorts of technologies in mental health care. I think it’s important that we haven’t just tried to digitize existing treatment exercises into an app and deliver that up as a tool. What we really wanted was to develop probabilistic models and use AI to provide a decision support tool, which can be hugely valuable and fundamentally support mental health services, which are very much overburdened globally.

Catherine Longworth:

How do you see your relationship with the NHS evolving? 

Dr. Ross Harper: 

We have a lot of admiration for the NHS and it’s the market we have chosen to develop in. We believe in the organization and are proud of Limbic as a company founded in in the UK. We hope to continue providing this sort of technology to the NHS and listen to their problems and challenges to see whether our expertise in AI can support them because we believe very much in their mission and what they stand for.

Catherine Longworth:

Are you looking to expand into additional markets outside of the UK? 

Dr. Ross Harper: 

We’ve got our eyes open, and we have explored other markets. But I think for a company like ours, limited focus is critical because you can’t do everything to begin with. For the time being we are focused on how we can augment NHS psychotherapy, support clinicians and patients and services within this care system. It goes without saying that a lot of the benefits that I have described that we’re able to support the NHS with, they do translate to other markets delivering psychological therapies so we have explored that purely from a gathering information point to understand how our solutions may fit within those markets. But right now, it’s the NHS for us.

Catherine Longworth:

The digital mental health space is expanding with new technologies. How will Limbic differentiate from other companies?

Dr. Ross Harper: 

It’s tough to comment on other companies but I can talk with authority about Limbic. We’re the only technological solution that is regulated to this level to support triage and assessment in adult mental health care. We are also the most widely used tool of its kind in the NHS so, while others are quite rightly looking at entering the space – currently Limbic is the leader. We’ve also got the evidence that shows our decision support can support both patients and clinicians because that’s a key part of this puzzle rather than being a straight business to consumer product. Other technologies are also gearing towards wellbeing, and we aren’t positioning ourselves as a wellbeing tool for corporate or direct consumers. Nor is this an area we plan to push. We consider ourselves to be a clinical tool – we were born in mental health care and plan to stay in this space.

Catherine Longworth:

What are some of the key milestones for Limbic in 2023?

Dr. Ross Harper: 

The key things are continuing to develop our triage and assessment support tool. We also have a product called Limbic Care, that we plan to add some exciting new functionalities to in 2023. We’ve also got new machine learning models coming out of our lab, which will be used to create service efficiencies and improve patient experience and clinical outcomes. All of these are currently in the pipeline so it’s going to be an exciting year.

Allurion signs SPAC deal to go public

Weight loss device company Allurion has entered a business combination with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Compute Health to become a publicly listed company. 

The proposed transaction with Compute Health is expected to value the combined company at about $500 million, according to a Bloomberg report. The shares will trade on the New York Stock Exchange. 

Founded in 2009, Natick, Mass.-based Allurion is the developer of a weight loss digital platform that accompanies an inflatable device. The gastric balloon is swallowed in the form of a capsule and is designed for a one-time application. It can be inserted in a fifteen-minute appointment and dissolves after four months. 

Allurion’s weight loss digital platform includes a behaviour change program app, and a Virtual Care Suite which uses AI to provide remote patient monitoring. 

“The balloon helps you feel full, but the digital platform is keeping track of data and provides that link between patient and provider,” Allurion co-founder and CEO Shantanu Guar told Medical Device Network. “The behaviour change program then creates a cohesive experience that allows the patient to change their lifestyle – that’s what’s unique about our platform.” 

The app contains accessibility across 15 languages and has aided Allurion in covering over 100,000 patients across 60 countries. In a population study, users lost an average of 14% of total body weight after just four months. 

Allurion’s balloon technology has the potential to become a pillar of weight loss treatment in the future. Global Data predicts that gastric balloon revenue in the UK alone will be $4.5m by 2024. The company’s launch in Brazil was particularly noteworthy where the weight loss surgery market is one of the biggest globally, with a projected revenue of $6.3m in 2025 according to Global Data. 

The public listing will include fully committed Private Investment in Public Equity (PIPE) led by RTW Investments, will help raise capital and provide partnerships for the company and adds to a previous $34m raised in venture financing. 

Guar said that the investment will be directed into transforming the balloon into wider medical uses, such as stomach sensors or a drug delivery device. Most importantly, funds will go to expanding the capacity of the digital platform. 

“Anyone who’s going through bariatric surgery or taking a weight loss drug is going to need a behaviour change and a digital platform. I see our balloon as being one of the therapeutic options, but at the centre [of weight-loss therapy], I see our software and that’s what we want to build over the next five to 10 years, either in partnership with some of the other players in the industry or by ourselves.” 

Main image: Boston Scientific, Silicon Valley. Credit: Sundry Photography/ Shutterstock  

February | Deals

Macmillan Cancer backs development of sepsis detection home device

Macmillan Cancer Support has invested £100,000 in 52 North Health, a med-tech start-up developing a device that can detect neutropenic sepsis in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

A side effect of chemotherapy is suppression of the immune system. As a result, even a mild infection can cause a patient to become severely ill and develop a condition called neutropenic sepsis – which can be fatal. Currently, patients are advised to go to A&E if they develop symptoms. However, 50% of these visits for neutropenic sepsis are false alarms.

The NeutroCheck device pairs with a digital app that allows patients to monitor for neutropenic sepsis at home. The test, a lateral flow from a blood finger prick, will provide accessible at-home monitoring. According to the company, it will help alleviate emergency room pressure and reduce costs both to patients and healthcare providers.

Remote patient monitoring devices are becoming fundamental avenues of healthcare provision as digital innovation transforms the medical landscape. GlobalData predicts that this market will reach $760 million by 2030, up from $548.9 million in 2020 with a CAGR of 3.3% over the ten years.

“We strongly value the patient experience, and it has always been important to us to ensure that the test is as accessible as possible,” 52 North Health co-founder Dr Saif Ahmad told Medical Device Network. “The app will have functionalities which simplify use, such as enabling patients to take a photo of the device to automatically interpret the result.”

The venture investment from Macmillan will fund the Cambridge, UK-based company’s clinical validation trials, which are set to begin later this year and is the first in a new scheme aimed at driving innovation in cancer care.

Macmillan is one of Britain’s largest cancer charities and aims to inject £3.5m into med tech start-ups through 2023 and 2024 as part of the new impact investment fund.

“We want to increase the impact that innovations have on people living with cancer,” said Tanya Humphreys, Head of Innovation Partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support.

“We will be investing in a wide range of opportunities all within cancer care, but we also want to influence and lead the charitable sector and other organisations to invest in innovation.”

Humphreys shared that Macmillan is planning to target innovations around liquid biopsy, virtual care, and helping transform treatment to improve patient experience undergoing therapy.

Depending on the clinical validation trials, NeutroCheck already has a strong potential to be distributed widely across the NHS to patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“We already have interest from a number of NHS Trusts and support from the East of England Cancer Alliance,” CEO and co-founder Umaima Ahmad told Medical Technology.

“We are also working with the UK Sepsis Trust to put together a new clinical pathway so that it is easier for the NHS to implement nationwide.”

Macmillan Cancer’s new impact investment programme follows that of Cancer Research Horizon’s (part of Cancer Research UK) seed investment fund which is in the process of growing to £30m to finance start-ups. According to the charity, to date they have helped form 60 medical technology companies.