How this telehealth startup aims to address mental illness with ketamine therapy

A woman sleeping on a white bed and wearing a smartwatch
Many doctors today may feel like existing therapy treatments for mental health are neither effective nor ethical. The mainstream paradigm around mental health is broken, Nue Life Health believes, and prescribing more medications is not the solution. (Olena Hromova/Shutterstock)

Telehealth company nue.life bills itself as a mental wellness platform, but offers something different than most: ketamine therapy. 

Its founders describe the startup as “therapy-agnostic,” and, while it offers ketamine treatments, it also features an interactive app, integration with wearable technology like Apple and WHOOP and incorporated music therapy, health coaching and peer support groups. 

The company hopes to leverage medical and digital tech to take a comprehensive, integrated approach to care and address the root causes of mental illness. The company currently has five medical providers, two health coaches and a dozen mental health counselors. 

Many doctors today may feel like existing therapy treatments for mental health are neither effective nor ethical, Juan Pablo Cappello, nue.life CEO and co-founder, told Fierce Healthcare. Some antidepressants, for instance, may only mask symptoms but not treat potential underlying trauma.

The mainstream paradigm around mental health is broken, the nue.life team says, and prescribing more medications is not the solution.

Psychedelic medicines like ketamine may be one burgeoning answer. Ketamine, a Schedule III drug, has been shown to trigger the growth of new neurological connections in the brain, relieving depression symptoms in as little as a few hours.

So, nue.life wants to find the lowest dose necessary to reset harmful thoughts in patients. It’s like a “control-alt-delete for your ego,” as Cappello put it. But if other drugs, such as MDMA or psilocybin—the active ingredient in magic mushrooms—become approved, Nue Life would consider using them, too, he said.

“Ketamine is just a tool; it’s not the end game,” Cappello said.

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Patients interested in nue.life begin with a discovery call and are invited to download the company’s interactive app. On the platform, they can complete a medical consultation and, if needed, be prescribed ketamine by the company's licensed practitioners.

The ketamine treatments are provided in the form of a lozenge, which offers a low dose that puts the patient in a meditative, lucid, dreamlike state they will be able to remember, Cappello said. 

“Maybe that's all we need to be able to listen to ourselves and develop our own story in therapy,” he said.

While in that state, patients can partake in music therapy and also talk into the app, which records their voice notes. That experience recap is then available as a sort of journal entry patients can go back to and reprocess, explained Kazi Zayn Hassan, M.D., chief medical officer and co-founder of nue.life.

Patients will be invited to participate in groups where they can learn from their peers and incorporate their own session insights more meaningfully into their life.

Using data on 1,350 patients from Hassan’s private ketamine therapy practice, nue.life found that half of the patients with moderate to severe depression showed improvement greater than 50% in their symptoms after a three-dose ketamine treatment. That response rate improved to 64% in patients with depression with a six-dose treatment. Among patients with moderate to severe anxiety, more than half of patients reported a greater than 50% improvement following a six-dose treatment.

Early intervention with ketamine therapy is key, Hassan said. Those who seek it are “the most desperate” of those living with mental illness, he said, adding that many of his own patients are treatment-resistant, meaning they have failed to improve on two rounds of antidepressants.

“We want to escalate our therapy higher up the ladder so people don’t have to suffer as long,” he said.

nue.life expects to work with hundreds of practitioners across as many states as possible to maximize access to the therapy. Eventually, nue.life says some providers will have the option to maintain their own private practice while also working with the company's patients, the company told Fierce Healthcare.

Because of lagging reimbursement opportunities in this space, nue.life is a cash-based practice—to facilitate care “without the constraints of insurance protocols.” The company said patients can try to submit a claim to their insurance provider for possible reimbursement of professional fees. One month of care, which includes six ketamine sessions and coaching, costs $1,250, the company said; four months of treatment, with 18 ketamine sessions, costs $2,750.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that nue.life doesn't offer eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.