Under the Microscope: Curio

In this series, we explain why we invested in our current portfolio companies. In the process, we hope to highlight the white spaces in women’s health and the life sciences — as well as the people, products, and companies working to fill those gaps. The name “Under the Microscope” refers both to our extensive due diligence process and our investment focus on healthcare and the life sciences.

“I felt like my life was spiraling out of control”, “I felt like I was drowning”, “I felt like a horrible mother”, and “I felt like I was going through hell”.

When women share their stories of postpartum depression (PPD), the same experiences come up: they feel as they are unable to function due to intense, uncontrollable emotions, lack of pleasure or joy, and an overwhelming sense of failure as a mother. Despite the subsequent isolation that PPD can bring, it is not uncommon: about 10 to 20% of mothers experience postpartum depression.

Some of the common words found in women’s stories about postpartum depression as shared here.

Postpartum depression differs from the “baby blues”, which about 75% of mothers experience, because of its length — many months compared to up to 10 days — and its severity. To be diagnosed with PPD, a woman has to show either depression or anhedonia (loss of interest) as well as five other depression symptoms — including insomnia or hypersomnia, loss of energy or fatigue, and change in weight or appetite — for at least two weeks. And while the baby blues tend to go away on their own, postpartum depression can require medical intervention. If left untreated, postpartum depression can negatively affect the mother, her husband or partner, and her baby.

Getting needed help is not always easy, though. Estimates show that less than 20% of mothers with postpartum depression receive treatment due to a variety of factors: feeling stigmatization, not being screening for for PPD — after all, only in 2016 did the U.S. Prevention Services Task Force updated its recommendation for depression screening in adults to include pregnant and postpartum women — and not having conversations about PPD with their medical professional. While many women rely on their OB/GYNs as their primary healthcare contact, especially during pregnancy, OB/GYNs are 2.4 times less likely than primary care physicians to address concurrent medical problems — including mental health conditions — since they have less training in depression diagnosis and management and fewer resources at their disposal than primary care physicians do. The result is decreased rates of diagnosis and quality of treatment.

Even if a mother is diagnosed, she must find an effective and accessible treatment options, of which the most popular are therapy and medication. In the case of therapy, she’ll have to find an available mental health care provider amidst a shortage of those professionals and have the resources to pay for treatment : an major obstacle for 45% of Americans, not just mothers with postpartum depression, seeking mental health care. Meanwhile, antidepressants medications — depending on the drug, its brand name, and an individual’s health insurance coverage — can run from about $15 per month to several hundred dollars to $34,000 in the case of a postpartum depression-specific drug. If the mother choses to pursue a treatment option that doesn’t involve therapy or medication, she faces another price tag: a course of transcranial magnetic stimulation, for example, can involve 20 to 30 sessions with an average price tag of $300 per session. Those sessions also require time away from a baby, which includes indirect costs of transportation or baby-sitting and could amplify feelings of maternal guilt or unhappiness.

Early recognition of women at risk for postpartum depression, however, can limit these costs, the severity of her depression, and the need for these treatment options. Both a postnatal drop in hormones and the experience of being a mom — including lack of sleep, physical changes, and emotional obligations — can lead to postpartum depression. There are also several other risk factors, though, including smoking, chronic health conditions, pregnancy risks or complications, and a history of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorder. Since medical professions can identify these predictors as early as the first trimester, they can intervene in a timely and appropriate way and, thus, improve the outcomes for the mother, her family, and her society as well. Together, the financial costs of untreated maternal depression in both women who were pregnant and who had given birth, are estimated to be over $14 billion.

Curio offers women a more convenient, cost effective, and accessible solution than current standards of care.

Curio aims to provide FDA-approved digital therapeutics for women’s health conditions, starting with postpartum depression: the focus of its flagship product, Stella™, which is a suite of tools focused on PPD. Stella-p, is available to those at risk for developing postpartum depression, Stella-t will be offered to those who have already been diagnosed with PPD, and Stella-d, the diagnostic, is an AI tool that help identify women who could benefit from either Stella-p or Stella-t. Because the company offers digital therapeutics, the Stella™ products can be addressed at a time, place — and even cost — convenient to the mother. She, in turn, will have access to the resources they offer, which include innovative, evidence-based interventions personalized to her needs, as well as behavioral therapy facilitation and clinical interventions, such as one-on-one sessions with a physician or nurse, communication between her and her healthcare team or family members, and connections to educational resources and a like-minded community.

We invested in Curio, though, not only because of the need for its Stella™ products but also for the range of solutions it hopes to offer women for a variety of mental health conditions — which 20% of women in the U.S have experienced in the past year alone — starting with postpartum depression and expanding to those around fertility and menopause. Curio’s products have shown to demonstrate effectiveness that is both statistically significant and clinically meaningful; the Stella™ PPD products specifically have already been studied in 1000+ women in a randomized clinical trial setting; and the FDA approval that Curio will seek for all its offerings, starting with Stella™, guarantees that each one will be safe, secure, and effective

Curio’s CEO, Shailja Dixit, MD.

With Curio’s Stella™ products, women who are at an increased risk or are struggling with postpartum depression –won’t have to feel like they’re going through “hell” alone. Instead, , they can have solutions that are affordable, convenient, and effective and allow them to focus on — and enjoy — their new baby and their role as a mother.

At Avestria Ventures, we look for early-stage women’s health and female-led life science companies with products or technologies that improve healthcare quality and/or access, lower costs, induce clinical or behavioral change, are evidence based, have scalable commercialization plans, and have a sustainable competitive advantage. Know one? Contact us via our website, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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Avestria Ventures

Avestria Ventures

Investing in early-stage women’s health and female-led life sciences companies.