New partnership advances virtual reality for social anxiety disorder

BehaVR, a leading innovator of virtual reality digital wellness and digital therapeutics experiences, today announced that it has begun a new partnership aimed at leveraging virtual reality experiences to address critical unmet needs in social anxiety disorder (SAD), an underreported and undertreated mental health condition. The company has entered into a new joint development and collaboration agreement with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma Co., Ltd. to create a general wellness product that uses virtual reality (VR) to assist in the management of SAD. BehaVR will partner with Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc., an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, in developing the product for use in the United States.

Decades of research have shown that VR is a powerful way to augment traditional cognitive behavioral therapies — including exposure, arousal reduction, active coping, and emotion regulation — which are often used to treat SAD. BehaVR’s technology platform expands on VR’s capability, using real-time biometrics and machine learning to personalize the experience. We believe this offers new possibilities in addressing SAD, and we are excited to explore these possibilities and ultimately bring to market a product that has the potential to change the lives of millions.”

Dr. Peter Buecker, Chief Medical Officer of BehaVR

According to the Social Anxiety Association, social anxiety disorder is the third largest mental health condition in the world today, estimated to affect as much as 7 percent of the population – more than 17 million people in the U.S. alone. An intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others, social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is often characterized by rapid heart rate, trembling, sweating, feeling nauseous and having difficulty speaking or being around other people.

Virtual reality has the potential to make good care and management for social anxiety disorder more accessible to people around the world. Many with SAD do not receive any support in managing their condition because there is a shortage of behavioral health professionals where they live, they cannot afford it, or their previous attempts at treatment haven’t worked.”

Aaron Gani, Founder and CEO of BehaVR

Grounded in neuroscience and behavioral health research, the product BehaVR and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma are creating will use VR to target the chronic activation source of stress or anxiety and provide personalized education content, active coping skills training, and behavioral reinforcements inside a dynamic experience. It will provide clinician visibility into patient progress, integration with other clinical systems, such as EMRs, and telehealth platforms.

“This is a truly exciting time,” said Dr. Walter Greenleaf, Ph.D., of Stanford University and Chair of BehaVR's Scientific Advisory Board. “With the convergence of technologies today, we are now able to make accurate and objective assessments of an individual's mood state and cognitive function, instead of relying on inaccurate, subjective self-reported measurements. This approach allows us to develop new and powerful therapies that will provide effective solutions for any number of behavioral and mental health issues.”

BehaVR expects the product will come to market in the US in 2022.

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