London-based Habitual, a health tech startup that offers a weight loss program for people with type 2 diabetes (or prediabetes) that combines ‘evidence-based’ dietary replacement with digital support to help people manage and even reverse the disease (so they can be drug-free), closed a $ 2.3 million funding round.
The round was led by Berlin-based Atlantic Food Labs with input from existing investors Seedcamp and MMC. Oxford Seed Fund, which is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Center at Said Business School, University of Oxford, also participated – and the round is Habitual’s third round since its inception in September 2019, including a pre- seed earlier this year to fund a soft launch. His total raised to date is just over $ 3 million.
Habitual’s program involves a period of total food replacement – when it provides users with all of their daily meals in nutrition-controlled sachets (there is a choice of flavored porridge, shakes and soups).
For the food substitute, Habitual says it worked with a product development consultancy that previously did development work for European rival Soylent Huel to develop the formulations.
Its Companion Digital Program is designed to accompany and support patients throughout their dietary transitions, including guiding them through the reintroduction of healthy, whole foods, the app giving them tools to track their weight and mood, and access resources and digital coaching.
“We use the same nutritional framework as that used in DiRECT [trial] (and other total diet replacement studies) – that is, three months of total diet replacement followed by a slow reintroduction of whole foods into the diet, during which time we help patients retrain around healthy nutritional, mental and physical habits, ”says co-founder and COO Napala Pratini.
“The main difference… is that we walk patients through the program completely digitally, as opposed to in-person telemedicine appointments. “
Per Pratini, Habitual’s digital intervention consists of three key elements – first, lessons and daily ‘evidence-based’ behavior change exercises, which she says range from CBT to nutrition education to help users reintroduce whole foods; second, the app provides personalized daily monitoring (via self-report) to help patients track progress over time; and finally users can access the startup’s patient care team and “tailor-made virtual peer groups”.
The health issues associated with obesity and unhealthy diet are a huge and growing problem in most parts of the world, often linked to the heavily processed, sugar-laden foods that are staple foods in supermarkets in Western countries. rich for decades, but more and more. find their way into developing countries, too.
In the West, over the past decade or so, a number of digital health startups have sprung up on both sides of the Atlantic with the aim of using technology to help solve this problem – such as Livongo, Liva Healthcare, Omada, Oviva (who recently raised an $ 80 million round), Second Nature (formerly OurPath) and Virta, backed by Sequoia, to name a few.
There are also general weight loss platforms, like Noom. And – more recently – increasingly specialized pieces, such as YC-backed Fella (which, as the name suggests, supports obesity specifically for men).
But the opportunity to provide digital food and health support is huge, with different approaches likely to work for different people (or even, different health conditions) – so it’s unlikely to be a win-win scenario.
The cost of diabetes-related health care is also expected to exceed $ 1 trillion per year by 2025 by some estimates.
“We are addressing the root cause of the biggest problems facing modern healthcare systems, and although American companies have raised and valued billions, there is so much room to do better for patients,” says Pratini .
She says the London-based startup has “global ambitions” – and wants to take on the US giants with what she describes as “a more empathetic, patient-led model of diabetes care.”
During a private beta of Habitual’s program involving 30 patients, Pratini claims that users saw an average weight loss over the 3 months of 17 kg – slightly more than the amount of weight that she said. , has been shown to be “necessary” to reverse type 2 diabetes in a majority of people.
“As you say, some people will of course need to do shorter or longer periods [of total food replacement] to achieve their goals, and we help patients to do so, ”she adds.
Pratini, who has a background in marketing, says she and her co-founder, CEO Ian Braithwaite, a physician with a background in digital health startups and clinical practice, met while working alongside the DiRECT team – “and are therefore very familiar with the research”.
Habitual will be putting its product through its own peer-reviewed trials “over the next year or so,” she also told TechCrunch.
The startup started with a direct-to-consumer program – which means individuals refer themselves and charge those users a fee (£ 39 / week or £ 139 / month for 6 months – “this includes all a patient’s food for 3 months, and about half of their food for the next 3 months ”).
But he hopes he can work with payers like the UK’s National Health Service in the future, as well as self-insured employers and insurance companies (the latter being the dominant model in the US).
“We took the direct-to-consumer route first, because it allowed us to start collecting evidence and scaling it up faster than we could by relying on NHS purchases.” , notes Pratini.
“The NHS is already testing similar programs, but these pilots are only reaching a tiny fraction of type 2 diabetics in the UK. We anticipate that these programs will be scaled up in a few years, by which time we will have a significant amount of evidence under our belt to be able to successfully bid on these NHS tenders, ”she adds.