Meet the Startup That Wants To Deliver Ketamine to Your Door

Meet the Startup That Wants To Deliver Ketamine to Your Door

Ketamine is on the come up in the pharmaceutical world. Once confined to nightclubs and operating rooms, the drug is quickly gaining recognition as a valuable tool for treating mental health disorders including depression and anxiety.

Amid these rising tides, Wondermed has emerged, offering telehealth consultations and, potentially, the ability to deliver the drug right to your doorstep—all while building out a virtual platform and collecting data on how to use the molecule more effectively.

At the moment, the company provides a mail order service for courses of ketamine lozenges to those who’ve been prescribed the drug along with a telehealth software bridge between doctor and patient. Wondermed currently operates in five states — California, Texas, Florida, New York and Connecticut, though it plans to expand to another eight to 10 states in the next two weeks.

In the long run however, its plans are much bigger than being a link between doctors and patients.

“We generate more than 3,000 data points on every patient that comes into the funnel, and actually receives the medication,” says co-founder & Managing Director Jose Aycart.

His company is building out its online platform to collect and analyze patient data and provide mental health support services that may be useful, regardless of whether or not a patient is taking ketamine.

These data show in granular detail how ketamine therapies work. Does the route of administration matter? Does time of day matter? What types of patients are most likely to experience positive outcomes? It’s this data that represents the biggest business opportunity for Wondermed. The specifics of the monetization are still being worked out, but Aycart says it will never sell anonymized patient data to other companies.

Wondermed is in the midst of a seed funding round, targeting $7 million by the end of the month; It’s raised $5.6 million so far.

The company makes a bit of revenue by charging patients for consultations, but in the event that a patient doesn’t wind up using Wondermed’s platform, the consultation fee is refunded. For patients who are prescribed ketamine, the company charges only as much as the drugs cost them ($249 per month, which includes four doses), so neither Wondermed nor the physicians in its employ are incentivized to over-prescribe.

The drugs themselves are supplied by Tailor Made Compounding, a pharmacy in Nicholasville, Kentucky, and Wondermed is working on additional contracts in the pipeline with several other suppliers.

. Wondermed’s transformation comes as ketamine, which has typically been restricted to use as a general anesthetic, is quickly gaining recognition as a valuable tool for treating mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

“What I’ve found interesting is how rapidly this field has emerged,” says Steven Grant, a drug and addiction researcher who spent 25 years at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and is now retired.

Ketamine is a simple organic molecule that first gained clinical popularity in the 1960s as an anesthetic. It produces a dissociative state in patients and dulls pain. Once in the bloodstream, the molecule travels to the brain where it binds to a protein called NMDA on the surface of neurons. NMDA has a variety of jobs, but it’s best-known for its role in learning, memory, and neuroplasticity—or the brain’s ability to form new pathways between neurons.

While the research into why ketamine is such an effective treatment for depression and anxiety is ongoing, the consensus so far is that the molecule’s power comes from this ability to rewrite or rewire the brain’s circuitry. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack or a depressive episode, it can often feel like you’re stuck in a mental loop. Ketamine, it seems, offers a way to break that loop.

“It was this idea that you're increasing your neurological connections in the brain,” says Aycart. “You have the opportunity now to spark new forms of thought, new forms of emotion, or even new ideas.”

Unlike selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other traditional drugs used to treat depression, ketamine’s effects are fast-acting—often appearing within minutes or hours of administration—and don’t require taking the drug daily.

“It really is revolutionary, and that’s why now more than ever, people are starting to get access to it, and companies like ourselves are really trying to bring it to people as an alternative form of medicine,” says Aycart.

Grant says the rise of ketamine clinics and telehealth services like Wondermed are likely a net positive because they increase patient access to drugs patients need, but he also has reservations about how the therapies are being applied.

Many of these psychoactive drugs—especially ketamine—are intended to be used in tandem with therapy, or at least under the supervision of a trained professional. Increasing the brain’s plasticity is a valuable tool for breaking out of depressive loops, but unless a professional is there to help the patient settle into a healthier mental pattern, the full benefits may be left on the table.

Wondermed offers a variety of supplementary support and strategies along with the drugs themselves, but taking advantage of these tools is left to the patient’s discretion. Grant would like to see a larger focus on extending and expanding that auxiliary support.

The company says it’s focused on building out the platform’s nonmedicinal mental health strategies—things like breathwork, meditation, music therapy—and adding them to an app. If they can get enough people on board, the eventual plan could be to sell health insights back to patients through a subscription model or something similar. They may even patent their own psychedelic molecules in the future. But all of this is likely quite a ways out.

“What we're trying to do is very new, and the landscape yet hasn't been built out,” says Aycart.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Wondermed's monthly rate for ketamine lozenges.

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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.