Online opioid treatment startup Bicycle Health raises $50 million

Bicycle Health, a start up focused on virtual treatment for opioid addiction, raised a $50 million Series B round, founder and CEO Ankit Gupta tells Axios exclusively, bringing the company’s total funding to $83 million.

Why it matters: New data suggest a 15% rise in opioid overdose deaths during the pandemic, and research shows the drugs meant to treat it aren’t reaching those most in need. Enter Boston-based Bicycle Health, whose purely virtual offering affords patients a key benefit that in-person options can’t: Anonymity.

  • “Over and over what comes up [among patients] is the shame — people don’t want to talk to their primary care provider, they don’t want to talk to their partner,” says Gupta.

Context: The vast majority of people with an opioid use disorder are not receiving medication-assisted treatment, which significantly curbs overdose risk.

Details: InterAlpen Partners led the round, and insiders Questa Capital, Frist Cressey Ventures and City Light Capital also participated.

How it works: Bicycle enters into value-based contracts with health plans and offers a $199 per month direct-to-consumer option.

  • After a free consultation, Bicycle members are matched with a provider who builds a personalized treatment plan and, if appropriate, prescribes medication.
  • Bicycle also offers online group support and measures patients’ progress with assessments including standard depression and anxiety questionnaires.

What they’re saying: Because it’s entirely digital, Bicycle may help people avoid the stigma linked with getting treated for opioid use disorder, academics and investors tell Axios.

  • “Virtual treatment affords patients anonymity and can lower cost of treatment,” says Shivan Bhavnani, founder of the Global Institute of Mental and Brain Health Investment.
  • “Telehealth facilitates care for many patients who have difficulty attending in-person appointments due to logistical and psychological barriers,” write researchers in a 2021 study in the Harm Reduction Journal.

The other side: There are challenges linked with treating addiction virtually, from reaching people in areas without stable internet to ensuring people are receiving full wraparound care.

  • “There is skepticism among traditional addiction specialists regarding the long-term efficacy of the fully virtual model,” says Bhavnani.

The bottom line: While it remains unclear whether a hybrid or fully-virtual model is best for addiction treatment, one thing is clear: More options are urgently needed.

  • “We’re building a network effect, a movement,” says Gupta.

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