Kintsugi banks $20M to scale up voice biomarker-based mental health tech

Startup Kintsugi is using artificial intelligence to build smarter mental health care by helping clinicians detect depression and anxiety in patients more quickly using just their voices.

The company banked $20 million in series A funding to build out its staff, including its marketing, business and operations teams, according to Grace Chang, founder and CEO of Kintsugi.

The funding round was led by New York-based global venture capital and private equity firm Insight Partners. Acrew Capital, Darling Ventures, Citta Capital, Side Door Ventures, Primetime Partners, IT Farm, AngelList Fund and Alpha Edison also participated in the round.

The company has raised $28 million since its inception in 2019.

Chang, a technologist, and machine learning scientist Rima Seiilova-Olson founded Kintsugi in 2019. The company uses AI technology to close mental health gaps. The company developed an advanced machine learning tool that can score people for signs of mental health conditions using short clips of their voices while anonymizing identifiable information.

It is already being adopted by healthcare organizations and is on track to be used on millions of patient phone calls by the end of 2022. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder increased to 41.5% from 36.4% between August 2020 and February 2021.

Mental health conditions are not only on the rise, they are only identified by doctors 47.3% of the time and noted 33.6% of the time, according to a global Lancet study. "That means a good 60% to 70% of people really just fall through the cracks," Chang said.

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Kintsugi developed KiVA, its voice biomarker API platform for enterprise, as a clinical decision support tool providing practitioners with real-time scoring on patients’ mental health by integrating seamlessly with clinical call centers, telehealth platforms and remote patient monitoring apps. The company says its technology detects voice biomarkers for signs of depression and anxiety based on how patients speak—not natural language processing—to provide machine learning models that are uniquely language-agnostic.

The company aims to work with payers, providers, health systems, pharmaceutical companies and small- and medium-sized enterprises. 

"What our technology does is, today, we're integrated into Fortune 500 companies like through the largest care management call center. What we do is we help augment general practitioners and nurses to be able to identify signs of clinical depression and anxiety so that we can get patients to the right level of care at the time of need during the pandemic," Chang said. "We saw an explosion of all different types of mental health solutions from coaching to digital health apps to therapies to different types of treatments."

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She continued, "With the particular partners that we've been working with, they're all integrated behavioral health solutions where they have access to all of these different resources, but they have a really hard time at the moment trying to understand who needs what, when. We have a technology that helps give that sort of visibility to a generalist who typically doesn't pick that up."

Chang says Kintsugi's ultimate aim is to develop objective, quantifiable and accurate measurements to raise the parity of mental health to that of physical health.

“Our Computational Care thesis looks for special teams with empathy and technical wizardry on use cases that matter. Kintsugi sits squarely at that intersection by helping partners optimize when and how patients receive the right care,” said Scott Barclay, managing director at Insight Partners, in a statement.
Kintsugi also is working with the scientific and healthcare communities to provide high-fidelity mental health population insights from its uniquely large global data set. The company says its data set is 110 times larger than the next largest and can better detect and understand signs of mental health conditions across demographics, geographies, social determinants of health and languages.

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Current clinical partnerships include physicians from Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Pediatric Institute of Discovery and Innovation at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. Growth xPartners, based in Japan, has also become a Kintsugi collaboration partner.

Experts agree depression and anxiety have been difficult to track with traditional paper surveys, PHQ-9 and GAD-7, which measure the severity of depression and anxiety through a self-guided questionnaire.

"I'm really excited to see if we can change the paradigm of mental health and give it some measurement to treat mental health with the same parity as physical health. Many of the clinicians that we are now working with, they see that vision that if there is measurement there could be parity," Chang said. "I think that's exciting for this field that has been kind of the redheaded stepchild of the industry because there just hasn't been any way to measure if somebody is improving or not."

"The pandemic has helped bring to light the need for new tools and methods for identifying mental health concerns," said Fredric Reyelts, M.D., medical director for innovation at Mercy Health, in a statement.

“Capturing this information only annually comes up far too short in evaluating true ongoing mental wellness. Tools that are fluid and can be utilized in various settings will allow for earlier detection and improved patient care," Reyelts said.