CEO & Co-founder Bechara Saab, PhD, spent years in the lab understanding how the brain works. With Mobio, he’s built a novel way to identify mental health challenges early and offer digital solutions that can scale globally.
Some problems seem too difficult.
Suppose you were tasked with the job of finding 800 million psychiatrists who could deliver top-notch care for everyone suffering from mental illness around the globe. You’d just as well try to clear all the seashells from a beach. “Daunting” doesn’t begin to describe it.
We have a mental health problem in the world and it’s rapidly becoming humanity’s greatest crisis. One in ten people need mental healthcare. Globally, that number sits at around 800 million. Therapists and psychiatrists have tools to deal with the individual challenges; there just aren’t enough of them.
Cost is also a huge barrier to mental healthcare. If you’re one of the few who can access psychotherapy, you could drop $25,000 in a year of care. Mental illness is costly. $1.8 trillion is spent on direct care for mental health. Mental illness writ large is a $16 trillion per year crisis.
If you can access mental healthcare and pay for it, there is the added problem of measuring success. There is a lack of precision and accountability in our current mental health standards of care. It’s hard to tell what each patient will need and how people will respond to various treatments.
In recent years, mental healthcare has seen the rise of digital therapeutics (DTx), where solutions are designed for scalability and affordability. The DTx industry is growing annually at 31.4%. But while DTx is suited for scale, quality of care remains a challenge. Mental health apps that take a one-size-fits-all approach are going to have limited success. Without personalization and the ability to collect data on the mental health of the individual patient, these tools will remain limited in their impact.
Enter Mobio Interactive, a startup bringing real-time mental health data to the world of DTx solutions.
Mobio Interactive doesn’t believe solving the mental health crisis is impossible. CEO and Chief Scientist at Mobio Interactive (MI), Bechara Saab, approaches the solution with a personal history in both technology and medicine. After completing a PhD in neuroscience at Mount Sinai in Toronto and postdoctoral research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Saab found himself in a lab with mice. He had opened a pre-clinical laboratory at a psychiatry hospital in Zurich. Saab’s research focused on circuitry that underlies one’s motivation to explore. In other words: how does the wiring of your brain make you curious? At the time, a media storm gathered around one of his discoveries which linked curiosity and intelligence at the molecular level.
Since Saab was based at a psychiatric hospital, his curiosity led to a new interest. He observed that one of the most common characteristics of mental illness was the dearth of exploratory behavior. After a mental illness is developed, the person’s desire to explore either ends or is overpowered by manifest fears. He wondered: If we could stimulate and kickstart the curiosity circuitry, could this help mental illness? Saab began to experiment on mice, restoring these parts of the brain through injecting a virus into the brain, installing a fiber optic, and planting a cap which controls it.
While this wasn’t a scalable solution for humans, it was the beginning of a bigger conversation around mental health. Around this time, Saab was approached with the idea of starting Mobio Interactive.
In 2016, the company’s launch corresponded with their first clinical results. Saab quit his job and began full-time as Chief Scientist for MI in 2017. In 2020, a paper was published with the world’s most-accurate stress modification using a selfie video. In 2021, MI signed their first health insurers, and they partnered with their first hospital in 2022.
Under the Hood
Mobio combines digital therapy with technology, delivering both a scalable solution and a personalized approach. One side of the business will seem familiar to many. They currently offer more than 1,000 unique psychotherapy and psycho-education sessions with more than 70 guides, psychiatrists, and clinical psychologists across seven languages. These sessions, which are accessed asynchronously and on-demand through a smartphone, introduce the user to The Journeys — most of which are clinically-validated tracks unlocked via a physician’s prescription.
The other side of the business — and the technology that powers the patient’s personalized therapy — is where Mobio Interactive clearly stands out. They are the first company to offer digital therapy with personalization driven by objective measures without relying on a wearable. Using nothing more than a camera phone, MI can quantify stress within 30 seconds.
“One can only fake how they feel for so long,” Saab explains. Their face tells the whole story. MI skillfully combines computer vision with artificial intelligence and self-assessment. With technology reading the patient’s heart rate, relative oxygen saturation, and breath rate, stress levels are determined. Through the selfie, however, MI can also pull out three different pigments from the face and read micro facial expressions, tracking 200 intersection points around the eyes. As a result, MI determines the user’s stress level with an 80% accuracy. By combining digital therapy with video technology, MI produces accurate mental health analysis and personalized therapy at scale.
Strategically based out of Singapore due to its global connections, MI has their sights set on the world. Currently, MI is delivering therapy at scale through partner hospitals, spanning seven languages and ten major markets. United with expert advisors and directors, and a supportive network of investors and programs, MI anticipates FDA approval for their first Class II SaMD (Software as a Medical Device) in 2023.
Why We’re Proud to Invest
Mobio Interactive is an innovative company with a bold mission. With seven years of research, testing, and implementation, MI has proven to be a sensible solution for a significant problem.
As MI has tested their product in a controlled setting, analyzing stress before and after meditation training, MI has clinically proven decreases in anxiety, stress, and other symptoms of mental illness for a variety of medical conditions. It is the first such platform to beat the placebo. And having tested their product thousands of times, on ethnicities in more than 100 countries, we believe they can make an impact on the global market. This highly differentiated product has withstood clinical rigor and proven itself.
MI is just beginning. Curiosity hasn’t declined as exploration continues. We’re excited about future developments with MI as they seek to monitor distribution of blood in the face through the camera. Perhaps blood expression patterns correspond with different emotional states that computers can interpret in clinically meaningful ways. Right now, virtually all technologies use six different basic emotions, however the brain doesn’t have just six. Tracking blood flow in the face may prove a better way to analyze the user’s brain. Additionally, MI is seeking to mimic the patterns of human eyes, gaining a better assessment and feeding that data to the network. Step by careful step, MI is showing the world that precision psychiatry is possible at scale.
Join us in welcoming Bechara Saab, PhD, and the Mobio Interactive team to StartUp Health.