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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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Historical documents, records and important artifacts are sometimes locked away in vaults (until a museum or library wants to showcase them), and under restricted access. Thomas McLeod believes that these artifacts hold great value and have the potential to impact communities, so he founded Arkive, the first decentralized, physical museum.
The inspiration for Arkive came from McLeod’s previous company, Omni, a physical storage company acquired by Coinbase in 2019.
“We thought it would always be like utility items and we started getting full sneaker collections, vintage posters, records, comic books that were valuable and we kind of had a panic attack,” McLeod told dot.LA. “The business [Omni] was built around storing bikes, and you can't put a vintage record next to a dirt bike. They just don't store in the same manner.”
McLeod was fascinated by the items and collections that came through the door. To him, it felt like browsing a museum of curated items that everyday people collect.
That’s when McLeod knew he was onto something.
McLeod has built startups before. Past projects included Pagelime, acquired in 2015 by SurrealCMS, and in 2012 LolConnect was acquired by Tencent.
The items in Arkive's collections are hand-selected by members who vote on what items they want to acquire. The organization currently has 300 active users, and there are hundreds on the waiting list. McLeod confirmed to dot.LA that they will increase the number of members admitted to 50 people each week with plans to cap admissions at 1,000 for the first phase. He added that while membership is free today, that will likely change in the future.
People interested in becoming members must apply on Arkive's website, where they will answer individual questions about their interests and occupations.
Arkive's physical, blockchain-inspired museum is coming to Santa Monica. Courtesy of Arkive
Just as museums have a lobby, Arkive has its “atrium.” In this space, every member enters and registers their cryptocurrency wallets. Once registration is complete, members can vote on the blockchain for the artifact or piece of art they want Arkive to acquire. Prior to voting, to ensure they are well informed, members will have the opportunity to learn about each artifact from the artist, the gallery or the collector who previously held the item.
Since there is a surplus of artifacts around the world, Arkive’s team of curators handpick options that are relevant to the current theme: ”When Technology Was a Game Changer.” While each round of voting is different, McLeod said the voting window for members usually lasts five days (M-F).
Arkive has acquired two items since coming out of stealth mode, the first one being the original patent for the ENIAC – known as the world’s first programmable, electronic general-purpose computer. In addition to ENIAC’s patent, members also voted to acquire Seduction (1985), a vintage print by Lynn Hershman Leeson, which will be part of Arkive’s first public exhibition at the Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2022. Once items are acquired, they will be loaned to museums or galleries to be placed on display for the public to enjoy—at locations Arkive members believe have the most significant cultural impact.
“For instance, the ENIAC patent, we would love it if it lived at the Computer History Museum in San Mateo. If we acquired a Frida Kahlo, we would love it if it was in Mexico City or somewhere that mattered to her art or the family that she was a part of,” McLeod said.
The Santa Monica-based startup announced last week that it raised $9.7 million in a seed funding round led by Offline and TCG Crypto. Other participants included NFX, Freestyle Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Not Boring Capital, Precursor, Chainforest, Coil, Julia Lipton, Joe McCann, Chris Cantino, Marty Bell and Paul Veradittakit.
“People who committed were all the way in and did not hesitate to support and be a part of the journey,” McLeod said. “It got us the right people that are in it for the long haul and really care about not just the business but the potential cultural impact that it could have. So having the right investors to me is more important than just money.”
Some of the funding will be allocated towards expanding the team, but a majority of the capital raised will go into acquiring more artifacts. McLeod said Arkive has three more acquisitions lined up in the next three months, but the eventual goal is to acquire two pieces a month.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misspelled Thomas McLeod's last name.
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Decerry Donato is dot.LA's Editorial Fellow. Prior to that, she was an editorial intern at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.
Live performance app Encore, co-founded by rapper Kid Cudi, wants to put concerts in people’s pockets.
The Culver City-based company is among a bunch of virtual concert startups to emerge as the pandemic forced musicians to cancel or postpone in-person shows. But unlike competitors that are producing shows for virtual reality headsets or putting pay-per-view concerts on computers, Encore is betting fans will watch their favorite artists on smartphones. Think of it as a higher quality Instagram Live, with artists performing before augmented reality (AR) backgrounds and video chatting with fans.
A screenshot of Encore's Studio app for iPhone.
Photo courtesy of Encore
“What's disruptive about what we're doing is it is mobile live performance,” Encore co-founder and CEO Jonathan Gray told dot.LA. “It's free [for the artist] in your pocket, everywhere you go. And I think that's ultimately the vision of the company.”
Founded in 2020, the startup previously required artists to use both an iPad and iPhone to set up a show, with the more powerful tablets ensuring better production quality. But the iPad requirement proved to be a barrier for artists who couldn’t afford one, Gray said. Encore brings artists to its physical studio to perform on a greenscreen stage, too, but the company wants Encore shows to feel less like formal productions. They’ll ideally be something an artist does casually—and frequently—to engage with fans and make money in a lower stakes environment.
“The vision of the company, and the way we will get scale, is with artists doing stuff on their own,” Gray said. “I think as soon as it's on your phone, as soon as you can be going live in a minute, you're totally changing what it means to go live.”
Admission is cheap, but Gray said fans collectively spend a lot of money during a show. Middle-tier artists who have relatively smaller but engaged fan bases have racked up several thousand dollars during an Encore show—without booking a venue or hiring a production team.
“There's this completely untapped part of the music industry that has tons of engagement, but the engagement is on social [media],” Gray said. “Ultimately, your superfans can only stream on Spotify so many times. And even though you have super fans, how many of them are going to show up to a single city on a single night? Not that many.”
The new Encore Studio App lets artists design AR stages, add custom artwork and incorporate visual effects to turn basic spaces into more visually compelling backdrops. Other features include live polls, “backstage pass” video chats, and “clap goals,” in which artists can, for example, entice fans to spend more to hear new music.
Encore has raised $9 million in seed funding so far from investors like Battery Ventures, 468 Capital and Parade Ventures. The company has 14 employees and has facilitated 200 live shows since its first app went live in February. Roughly 2,000 artists have registered with Encore, which shows performers are interested but haven’t tried it, Gray said. That’s a big reason why the company is removing the iPad obstacle.
“You can actually get from downloading the app to having your own AR world and going live in like two minutes,” Gray said. “Before—it was not two minutes.”
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Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.