To kick off Mental Health Month, TMC Innovation Associate Director Emily Reiser, PhD, sits down with Jessica Lake PhD, the Chief Science Officer at Limbix, to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the pediatric and behavioral health space. With a renewed focus on pediatric behavioral health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital therapeutics has a lot of potential to make a difference. This blog allowed our team to cover a range of topics with Jessica and we are excited to share this read with you.
Can you share more about yourself? What have been the easiest and most challenging parts of being an entrepreneur?
My name is Jessica Lake and I’m the Chief Science Officer at Limbix. At Limbix, I’m responsible for strategic scientific leadership and overseeing evidence-based and data-driven input into Limbix’s product development and business decisions. I’m a cognitive-behavioral scientist by training; I did my PhD in Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University and completed a translational psychology postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA before joining Limbix in 2018. In my experience, one of the most challenging parts of being successful as an early stage startup is not being afraid to pivot or shift directions based on external or internal pressures, and not being afraid to do so before you have all the evidence you might ideally want to make a fully informed decision.
Tell us about Limbix’s vision.
Our mission at Limbix is to give all young people access to affordable, effective behavioral health care. Millions of teens suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Suicide is now the #2 cause of death for teens in the US, and not enough has been done to improve access to effective treatments. Limbix is passionate about delivering mental health treatment to young people who need it the most, when they need it the most. Today, we do this by developing digital therapeutics, which are evidence-based self-guided mobile treatments, for adolescent mental health disorders.
Describe how you see today’s behavioral health landscape for adolescents.
The behavioral health landscape for adolescents today is fairly bleak. There is a tremendous gap in access to care; approximately 58% of adolescents with depression do not receive treatment. Fundamentally, there are not enough providers to meet the demand for behavioral health resources. This issue is compounded by providers leaving the workforce at higher rates while demand is growing, especially for adolescent girls. A recent CDC survey showed that 57% of teen girls in the US felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 and 30% seriously considered attempting suicide. We have to do better to help young people.
In your opinion, what is the single most important change that will better enable digital transformation in adolescent care?
The most important change is enabling accessibility and affordability of available digital products for patients. This requires universal coverage for digital therapeutics across all payor types to not just address access, but to reduce disparities in accessibility of these evidence-based digital treatments.
What would be your advice to someone who is interested in starting a new HealthTech company and what challenges may they initially encounter in their first year?
In the current economic climate, my advice would be to think very carefully about the business model you’re looking to pursue to ensure there is a clear path to revenue. Beyond that, it is always important in building a product to center users in your development process to make sure you’re solving a real problem for them with your solution.
As one of the companies at the forefront of digital therapeutics, what have been the barriers to scale, and how has the space changed since you started?
In many ways, the problems facing digital therapeutics haven’t changed much since I started working in this industry. The biggest challenge to scaling is enabling pathways to bring these products to market at an affordable price for patients. Beyond that, I think the industry has been doing a good job of building awareness and understanding of what digital therapeutics are and how they can ultimately be incredibly impactful in scaling access to safe and effective healthcare. My colleagues at Limbix and I have no doubt that we are not very far away from a world where digital therapeutics are an established part of a care pathway for patients and we’re excited and humbled to be a part of that movement to improve patient lives.