Oxford spinout raises over £3m to treat mental health

A virtual reality (VR) spinout from the University of Oxford has raised over £3 million in an effort to bring its treatments to patients with mental health problems.

Oxford VR

Oxford VR received £3.2 million from investors to help bring its clinically validated VR technologies to market. The company will use the funds to help expand its team and launch a new product development strategy, to be led by newly appointed CEO, Barnaby Perks.

Oxford VR’s first product was an automated VR treatment for patients with a fear of heights. The treatment was tested this year in a large randomised controlled trial and is now being used in selected NHS clinics. The study included 100 people who were randomly allocated to VR therapy or no treatment. On average, those who had a fear of heights had lived with the phobia for 30 years. Those assigned to the treatment were given five sessions using VR and spent around two hours overall in the virtual space.

Now, the company wants to expand from solely treating phobias and is aiming to tackle the full range of psychological problems.

“Our focus is on developing clinically validated, cost-effective, user-centred treatments for clinical conditions with significant impact on patients, the health system and wider economy. That means targeting complex conditions such as psychosis and social anxiety,” Perks said. “I am delighted to lead a company that will transform mental health for millions by combining state-of-the-art immersive technology with world-class science from the University of Oxford. Professor Daniel Freeman’s research, combined with the advent of highly immersive consumer VR, means that Oxford VR can develop treatments that are faster and more effective than traditional treatments, significantly cheaper for health services to deploy, and – crucially – engaging and entertaining for users.”

Professor Daniel Freeman, chief clinical officer of Oxford VR said: “Instead of a real-life therapist, we used a computer-generated avatar to guide users through a cognitive treatment program for fear of heights. On average, people spent around two hours in VR over five treatment sessions. Everyone in the VR group saw their fear of heights diminish, with the average reduction being 68%. Half of the participants in the VR group had a reduction in fear of heights of over three quarters. These are amazing results: better, in fact, than could be expected with the best psychological intervention from a real-life therapist.”


Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via: reece.armstrong@rapidnews.com

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