University of Oxford spinout inks clinical paper in Lancet Psychiatry, appoints CEO and sets up Oxford HQ and London development hub
Oxford VR, a spinout company from the University of Oxford, has raised £3.2m with investors including Oxford Sciences Innovation, University of Oxford, Force Over Mass, RT Capital and GT Healthcare Capital Partners. This new investment round powers the pace of company growth to bring automated immersive, clinically validated Virtual Reality (VR) technologies to market as user-centered treatments for patients with mental health problems.
Oxford VR’s first product, an automated VR treatment for height phobia, was tested this year in a large randomised controlled trial, with the results gaining global acclaim when published in the Lancet Psychiatry. The treatment is now being used in selected NHS clinics.
The latest investment round will finance an ambitious strategy of product development, led by newly appointed CEO Barnaby Perks, formerly founding CEO of Ieso Digital Health. Although Oxford VR’s first treatment is for a phobia, it is the company’s intention to tackle the full range of psychological problems.
“Our focus is on developing clinically validated, cost-effective, user-centred treatments for clinical conditions with significant impact on patients, the health system and wider economy. That means targeting complex conditions such as psychosis and social anxiety,” states Barnaby Perks, CEO of Oxford VR. “I am delighted to lead a company that will transform mental health for millions by combining state-of-the-art immersive technology with world-class science from the University of Oxford. Professor Daniel Freeman’s research, combined with the advent of highly immersive consumer VR, means that Oxford VR can develop treatments that are faster and more effective than traditional treatments, significantly cheaper for health services to deploy, and – crucially – engaging and entertaining for users.”
Professor Daniel Freeman, Chief Clinical Officer of Oxford VR, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford and Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, led the Fear of Heights study published in Lancet Psychiatry. He states: “Instead of a real-life therapist, we used a computer-generated avatar to guide users through a cognitive treatment program for fear of heights. On average, people spent around two hours in VR over five treatment sessions. Everyone in the VR group saw their fear of heights diminish, with the average reduction being 68%. Half of the participants in the VR group had a reduction in fear of heights of over three quarters. These are amazing results: better, in fact, than could be expected with the best psychological intervention from a real-life therapist.”
David Norwood, Co-founder of Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), said: “Mental health problems are incredibly common, debilitating, and costly to society. Yet only a fraction of the people who need them have access to the treatments that work. We believe Oxford VR can make a huge contribution here, dramatically improving the lives of millions of people around the world. OSI is proud to have been involved from day one and we look forward to helping the company achieve long-term, lasting success.”
Theo Osborne, Co-founder and Head of Strategic Relationships at Force Over Mass, said: “We are really excited to be investing in a stellar team, innovating at the intersection of technology and mental health to solve a global problem.”
The current investment will enable Oxford VR to continue to build a high-calibre team, with a proven record of clinical and commercial success in digital health, and in cutting-edge immersive technologies. Alongside CEO Barnaby Perks and Chief Clinical Officer Daniel Freeman, the company has recruited Katie Bedborough as Chief Financial Officer, formerly Head of FP&A at the games company NaturalMotion; Christophe Faucherand as Chief Product Officer, formerly Head of Product of Ieso Digital Health; Dr Aitor Rovira as Head of VR Strategy from the University of Oxford; June Dent as Clinical Partnerships Director, formerly Clinical Lead for Oxfordshire IAPT Services; and Jason Freeman, a long-standing collaborator of Professor Freeman, as Chief Operating Officer. Oxford VR is headquartered in central Oxford.
Sam Gage, formerly of Sony PlayStation VR and the visualisation studio Third Floor, has also joined as Head of VR Development located at Oxford VR’s growing development office in London.
Oxford VR was founded in late 2016, built on the ground-breaking work of Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at University of Oxford and Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. Freeman has been one of the pioneers of the use of Virtual Reality to understand and treat mental health problems, with research funded by the Wellcome Trust, the UK Medical Research Council, and the NHS National Institute of Health Research. Oxford VR was seed-funded in January 2017 in a round led by Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), which has raised over £600M to build the ecosystem that brings Oxford’s ideas to the world. Now Oxford VR has raised £3.2m, with investors including OSI, University of Oxford, Force Over Mass, RT Capital and GT Healthcare Capital Partners. Oxford VR is also part of the consortium, led by Professor Freeman, which won the UK National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) i4i Mental Health 2017 Challenge, a £4 million award to develop VR-based psychological therapy to benefit NHS patients with psychosis. Alongside Oxford VR, this ground-breaking project called ‘gameChange’ brings together a unique team of NHS trusts, universities, a mental health charity, and the Royal College of Art. Oxford VR has also won funding from Innovate UK’s Investment Accelerator scheme to develop a VR treatment for young people with social anxiety. The company is working on the project with leading clinicians, and a patient user group, at the University of Reading. For images, videos of patients before and during fear of heights therapy and other assets please visit: https://vimeo.com/oxfordvr
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