Mental health chatbot Woebot takes $9.5M from Bayer

Woebot was previously accepted into Bayer’s G4A Digital Health Partnerships Program

Woebot Health occupies a unique space in mental healthcare: the company deploys an AI-powered mental health chatbot that uses proven therapeutic techniques to help its bot bond with patients.

In fact, a human never becomes involved in the patient interaction unless the AI processes detect anything that might be of clinical concern, such as suicidal ideation; otherwise, it’s just a person and a bot talking to each other. And the company says it can help its bot form a bond with a patient in as quickly as three days, which is faster than the two to six weeks it takes human therapist.

That approach has led to interest from Bayer Pharmaceuticals. Late last year, Bayer announced that had accepted Woebot into its G4A Digital Health Partnerships Program, and that the two companies had signed a Letter of Intent to assess joint opportunities in which they could work together on integrating care solutions in mental health. 

Now, the pharma company has announced a $9.5 million strategic investment in Woebot through Leaps by Bayer, its impact investment arm. This new round of funding, which is the first investment in mental health for Leaps by Bayer, follows Woebot’s $90 million Series B round in 2021 and brings its total raised to $123.5 million.

“Woebot Health’s approach in combining psychology and technology with an AI-powered, chat-based tool and clinically-proven therapeutic research has the potential to significantly improve patient’s well-being by providing 24/7 access to digital behavioral health solutions to help with the unmet need,” Dr. Jürgen Eckhardt, Head of Leaps by Bayer, told me.

He noted that an estimated 280 million people suffer from depression globally, making it one of the most common mental disorders and the leading cause of disability worldwide.

“Understanding mental health diseases, their cause, prevalence, and impact is a huge challenge, both from a societal and scientific perspective. Many current treatment options provide only limited relief, let alone a cure, proving the efficacy of new treatments is complex, and seeking treatment itself is stigmatized.”

Leaps by Bayer is an early-stage investor, which forms targeted collaborations and new ventures through its investments. That means it not only invests its money into companies, but also share its resources, including its patents, as well as access to its network’s technical capabilities.

The fund defines “10 Leaps,” each of which stands for what it calls “one of humankind’s biggest challenges,” including: cure genetic diseases; provide sustainable organ and tissue replacement; reduce environmental impact of agriculture; and prevent and cure cancer.

Specifically, Woebot Health fits into Leaps number 5 and 10: “protect brain & mind,” and “transform health with data.” 

“Regaining mental health is one of the main focus areas of Leaps by Bayer, and we believe that Woebot Health’s technology represents a unique opportunity to support the development of digital behavioral health solutions,” said Eckhardt.

Ultimately, what Bayers wants to see out of this partnership and investment with Woebot is fo the company to develop both prescription and non-prescription therapeutics to help with the unmet need for mental health services, while also bringing these mental health solutions to more people around the world, and making tech-supported continuous care a reality for all.

“With its deep focus on clinical evidence and unique AI-based platform and products, Woebot Health is forging a new frontier in behavioral health at a critical time in our world. This is a company that wants to integrate with the healthcare system to make lives easier not just for the patients, but also the providers, and ultimately provide savings while delivering better, more effective care.”

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