Josh Sackman, co-founder and president of AppliedVR, was born with congenital joint ligament abnormalities that left him with weak joints and introduced him early on to the world of health care.
The chronic pain sent him to hospital and doctors offices over the years. His surgeries and treatments often left him stressed and feeling isolated.
"Chronic pain is something that impacts 100 million Americans, just in the U.S. alone," said Sackman. "And [it affects] 1.5 billion people worldwide, costing $635 billion more than heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined."
Sackman recalls his eight-year-old self coming out of surgery in pain. He has had reconstructive surgery on his shoulders three times and several other related surgeries. His experiences inspired him to build a company that will lessen and make the chronic pain more manageable for others. He has had reconstructive surgery on his shoulder three times and several other related surgeries.
AppliedVR's products use virtual reality to take patients through mental exercises that help them cope. It's an option that could appeal, especially for those seeking alternatives to heavy drugs. The startup raised $29 million to continue developing products that help patients alleviate chronic pain, postoperative pain and anxiety. It's competing against companies like San Francisco-based Karuna Labs and Massachusetts-based XR Labs, which are also looking to treat chronic pain with virtual reality solutions.
"The pandemic was really disruptive [for health care]," Sackman said. "The typical care patients receive for chronic pain includes physical therapy visits with their doctors, often [also] injections, implants, surgical procedures and a number of other things that were just off access… We are addressing their quality of life, making fundamental improvements to how they're able to live their life, especially when dealing with pain, stress and isolation, more than ever."
Sackman and his co-founders Matthew Stoudt and David Sackman launched the Los Angeles-based company at the start of 2015. They had a shared interest in VR, but from a variety of perspectives. Stoudt's background was in advertising technology, and after watching a TedX talk on virtual reality, he saw a future in which screens in hospitals could do so much more than advertise. David Sackman previously worked at Lieberman Research, where he learned that VR has the ability to change behavior and build empathy.
"Virtual reality has so much promise and potential through all the studies and research we're seeing, but there were limitations around the hardware in terms of the form factor and pricing and usability," Josh Sackman said. "Our vision kind of came from translating concepts and design principles that have been proven in academic labs and translating them into real world applications."
After launching, the three got to work on their first product, SootheVR. It's already on the market, used by hospitals as a general wellness tool to help patients relax and be distracted from their pain. AppliedVR is expecting FDA approval for another version of SootheVR by the end of the year.
AppliedVR plans on using the Series A funding to further develop EaseVRx, the first virtual reality prescription treatment granted a "breakthrough device designation" by the FDA. This designation provides it closer access to the FDA, and could also mean it is covered by Medicare.
EaseVRx is a daily program that targets chronic low back pain. Patients put on the VR set and participate in an eight-week program that teaches different positive habits and coping skills to approach their pain management. The company will also double their team in the next year across all teams, including engineering and product marketing, said Josh Sackman.
The round includes investors F-Prime Capital, JAZZ Venture Partners, Sway Ventures, GSR Ventures, Magnetic Ventures and Cedars-Sinai. Many of these funds have other investments in the health care field, and it brings a diverse perspective to AppliedVR's decisions, Josh Sackman said.
"People very rarely think of the board, or their investor base, as part of their team," Josh Sackman said. "We try to, and really think through the same criteria of who we would hire, would bring into the business."
It's one thing to know a patient's lungs are infected with COVID-19. But it's an entirely different thing to see it through a virtual reality walk into those now damaged lungs.
The L.A.-based company Surgical Theater is using its high-tech VR platform, developed 10 years ago to allow surgeons to take an immersive look at patient imaging, to help doctors and patients get an in-depth look at the impact the novel coronavirus has on lungs, said Alon Zuckerman, the company's president and chief operating officer.
It is one of a slew of companies in Los Angeles and beyond that is working to help in the fight against COVID-19, in this case by giving medical staff and patients a closer look at the disease caused by the novel virus and a better view of the damage through virtual reality.
"There is such a stark contrast between the virus-infected abnormal lung and the more healthy, adjacent lung tissue," said Dr. Keith Mortman, chief of thoracic surgery at GW Hospital, on the hospital's podcast. "And it's such a contrast that you do not need an MD after your name to understand these images."
Surgical Theater first teamed up with George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., which was the first in the nation to use VR tech for thoracic cases four years ago to use its 360 degree view for surgical planning and patient education. Now, the hospital is using the same tech to assess COVID-19.
"This is something the general public can take a look at and really start to comprehend how severe the amount of damage this is causing the lung tissue," Mortman said. "The damage we're seeing is not isolated to any one part of the lung. This is severe damage to both lungs diffusely."
Dr. Mortman GWUH - COVID-19 Patient VR Flythrough 2 www.youtube.com
Two ex-Israeli Air Force officers created the VR platform after their experience with flight simulation to help with mission planning.
The FDA-cleared tech has been used in the operating room to help support complex surgeries with its 3D technology, and has been used in 10,000 procedures including in hospitals at Stanford; the University of California, Los Angeles; at Hoag in Orange County; and in New York hospitals, including NYU and Mt. Sinai, among institutes across the nation, Zukerman said.
The company is working with existing hospitals to offer help in VR-alizing the CT scans of patient lungs to help assess the surge of COVID-19 cases.
Mortman, who is using the VR platform, said he's especially concerned with possibly enduring damage to lungs as a result of these infections.
"When that inflammation does not subside with time, then it becomes essentially scarring in the lungs, creating long-term damage," he said. "It could impact somebody's ability to breathe in the long term."
Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my Signal.
- Los Angeles' Tech and Startup Scene is Growing. - dot.LA ›
- Los Angeles Venture Capital is Funding More Israeli Startups - dot.LA ›
- dot.LA/Pitchbook 50 Hottest Los Angeles Companies - dot.LA ›
- medtech - dot.LA ›
- los-angeles-startups - dot.LA ›
- Zwift's Raises $450M to Build Fitness Hardware - dot.LA ›
- Medtech Trends to Watch in 2021 - dot.LA ›
- 'This Is a Permanent Change': LA's Moving Analytics Is Betting Telehealth Is Here to Stay - dot.LA ›