Maternal suicide is the leading direct cause of death over the first year after pregnancy, according to studies by the Nuffield Department of Population Health at University of Oxford. The US National Institute of Mental Health meanwhile notes that three out of 100 people will experience psychosis at some time in their lives, with an 80% chance of relapsing within five years. And all of these numbers are from before the covid-19 pandemic, which in its first year alone caused the global prevalence of anxiety and depression to surge by 25%, according to the World Health Organisation.

CareLoop Health, a UK-based spinout of University of Manchester, is taking on this enormous challenge facing society and healthcare systems by developing digital therapeutics to tackle severe mental illness (SMI), particularly focusing on psychosis management and perinatal disorders.

Zoë Blake, CEO of CareLoop Health, standing in front of a red-brick wall
Zoë Blake

CareLoop Health launched earlier this year, building on more than 10 years of promising research as Zoë Blake, chief executive, tells Global University Venturing: “CareLoop Health’s clinical evidence base for SMI is unrivalled with five successful randomised controlled trials and 13 peer-reviewed publications. In the clinical trials, using CareLoop Health alongside in-person support resulted in 50% fewer relapse episodes in psychosis than in traditional care models.”

Its offering consists of a platform and connected app, which exploit artificial intelligence technology to note the predictive markers of psychotic escalation.

“CareLoop Health addresses the global need for lower cost, transformative models of care for those people living with SMI,” Blake says. “Our products are designed to facilitate these new models of care, giving clinicians and care workers oversight on how someone is experiencing their mental health issue day-to-day without that person needing to be in hospital, or requiring frequent face-to-face meetings.”

Although several mental health apps have been launched over the years, those suffering from SMI have been left relatively unserved, Blake says, and a key challenge has been identifying early warning signs of deteriorating symptoms. “One of the reasons for the slow take up of digital for this group is the risk involved when treating patients with high need. It is not until now, with the rise of digital therapeutics (and the evaluation this demands) that clinicians can comfortably prescribe digital products as part of a package of care for severe mental illness”.

Without intervention, SMI sufferers will continue to be “stigmatised, sometimes criminalised, have reduced life-expectancy, impaired employability, increased risk of physical illness, and face challenges to personal relationships with friends and family.” But there is hope because none of these things are inevitable consequences, Blake stresses.

Continued collaboration with University of Manchester

CareLoop Health was co-invented by professors Shôn Lewis, John Ainsworth and Sandra Bucci to commercialise an idea that first emerged in 2009 – using a smartphone for remote mental health symptom monitoring. Lewis and Ainsworth now serve as chief medical officer and chief technology officer, respectively. Blake boasts more than four years of experience scaling another digital mental health service, Kooth, to serving 70% of NHS England’s Clinical Commissioning Groups.

It means the spinout maintains strong links with the university and its tech transfer subsidiary Innovation Factory, which are actively helping CareLoop Health with its fundraising activities.

Securing investment would allow CareLoop Health to chase its “ambitious growth plans”, Blake says. “Our focus, for now, is in the UK. Our products are aligned to the NHS long-term plan and can help deliver the objectives laid down in the Mental Health Delivery Plan and the new Policy paper for Digital Health and Social care.”

The UK is also where the spinout will be working with the university on a Wellcome Trust-funded research trial, involving up to 1,100 people who have experienced psychosis, later this year. The trial will see CareLoop Health’s app tested across six institutions and their partnering NHS trusts.

Interest from the NHS is hardly surprising: its own research in 2016 found that mental health support and treatments “cost the economy an estimated at £105 billion a year – roughly the cost of the entire NHS”.

Solutions that are effective but relatively low-cost are imperative. Blake explains: “Commissioners we have spoken to tell us they need digital tools that can deliver improved patient experience and better outcomes to more people, without increasing spend. We see the appetite for digitally-enabled care pathways but recognise commissioners and clinicians need help designing these innovative models. This presents an opportunity as our directors are experienced in working in the NHS and, as clinicians themselves, are credible collaborators with healthcare teams.”

And while CareLoop Health’s focus for now is on the domestic market, longer term it plans to expand internationally, Blake reveals, as well as enter into other areas of severe mental illness. With disheartening statistics like those cited in the opening paragraph, that day cannot come soon enough.

Roshini Bains

Roshini Bains is the junior news reporter for Global Corporate Venturing and Global University Venturing.