October 5, 2023

Stella’s Acquisition of Field Trip Health: A Pivotal Moment in Psychiatry

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In the dynamic landscape of mental health startups, mergers and acquisitions are not uncommon. Yet, Stella's recent acquisition of Fieldtrip's U.S. assets stands out as a beacon of innovation and collaboration. This merger not only signals a significant shift in the sector but also promises a transformative future for mental health care.

Joining us for an in-depth discussion are Dr. Eugene Lipov, anesthesiologist and pioneer behind Stella centers and the Stellate Ganglion Block, and Mujeeb Jafferi (MJ), the visionary co-founder of Fieldtrip Health.

Their insights shed light on the intricacies of pioneering in the mental health space, especially amidst a backdrop of regulatory and economic challenges.

We discuss:

  • Venturing into the uncharted waters of modern psychiatry.
  • The Stellate Ganglion Block's potential and synergy with other treatments.
  • Upholding clinical integrity during a merger.
  • The evolving maze of telehealth laws.
  • Insurance dynamics for groundbreaking treatments.

Field Trip Health's Journey: A New Dawn in Psychotherapy

Launched in 2019 by Mujeeb Jafferi and his team, Fieldtrip Health embarked on a mission to introduce innovative therapies in areas stagnant for decades. The company's foray into psychedelic-assisted therapy showed early promise, especially with treatment-resistant patients witnessing significant transformations.

While ketamine-assisted psychotherapy was their initial focus, Fieldtrip's vision encompassed a broader spectrum, including potential therapies like MDMA and psilocybin. Their goal? To be pioneers in the anticipated psychedelic renaissance, aiming to integrate treatments like MDMA by 2023.

What is the Stellate Ganglion Block?

At the same time, Dr. Lipov's Stella Centers emerged as a beacon of hope for many. His groundbreaking Stellate Ganglion block procedure, an injection targeting a collection of nerves called the "stellate ganglion" in the neck, shows potential in recalibrating the brain's fight-or-flight response, offering immediate relief for various mental health conditions, especially those who have experienced trauma.

A stellate ganglion block is an injection of anesthetic medication into a collection of nerves in the bottom front of your neck. (image credit: ClevelandClinic.org)

"In recent years," Dr. Lipov noted, "ketamine has become a household name in mental health. However, treatments like the Stellate Ganglion Block or TMS, each with their unique advantages, remain lesser-known. Our goal is a centralized hub where individuals can explore and find the best therapeutic fit."

Fieldtrip's Evolution: Adaptation in the Face of Adversity

Starting with a clinic in Toronto in 2019 and soon expanding to New York, Fieldtrip faced the monumental task of building custom-designed centers for psychedelic-assisted therapy. The onset of the pandemic introduced unforeseen challenges, from halted constructions to operational disruptions. Their B2B model, relying heavily on in-person interactions, had to evolve.

Transitioning to a direct-to-consumer model was not without its hurdles, particularly with the substantial investment in physical clinics. Yet, resilience prevailed. Pandemic-led waivers paved the way for at-home ketamine services, prompting Fieldtrip's collaboration with Nue Life to explore hybrid therapeutic models.

The Union's Origin: A Meeting of Minds

Gersh, an influential figure in Stella's trajectory, initiated the dialogue with Fieldtrip. As Jafferi recounted, "What began as an inquiry soon transformed into a much larger conversation." With Fieldtrip making waves with its distinct branding and rapid expansion, the stage was set for a consolidation echoing the emerging trends in the sector. This collaboration, founded on mutual respect and a shared vision, promises to reshape the mental health landscape.

Advocating for Accessible, Data-Driven Care

The financial dynamics of pioneering treatments like the Stellate Ganglion Block and ketamine pose challenges, especially with insurance ambiguities looming large. Dr. Lipov emphasized the need for a paradigm shift in perception, stating, "One doesn't need to be a neuroscientist to see the potential of these treatments."

Insurance coverage for psychedelic therapies is lacking. Currently, intranasal esketamine (SPRAVATO®) is the only treatment under the broader umbrella of psychedelic treatments that's covered by insurance—despite mounting real-world evidence for ketamine's efficacy in treating treatment-resistant depression.

Stakeholders' dialogues and a rising public demand hint at a brighter future. Organizations like Osmind are championing these treatments through collaborations on real-world studies that leverage measurement-based care.

Potential collaborations with entities like the Department of Defense, the VA, and self-funded U.S. companies offer hope. These stakeholders, with a direct stake in treatment costs, prioritize value-driven therapies. Additionally, third-party administrators like Enthea are revolutionizing the space by collaborating with employers to offer psychedelic-assisted therapy, emphasizing a data-centric approach. This heralds a shift towards a more evidence-based psychiatry, prioritizing holistic patient well-being.

In essence, while hurdles remain in achieving broad insurance coverage for psychedelic therapies, the collaborative spirit among providers, insurers, and stakeholders paints a promising picture, ensuring these transformative treatments are accessible to all in need.

For more on this topic read: The State of Innovative Mental Health Care pt. 1, pt.2, pt. 3.

Summary and Key Takeaways:
  • A Union of Innovators: Stella and Field Trip Health's merger marries two groundbreaking treatments.
  • Stella Ganglion Block Unveiled: Dr. Lipov's procedure offers a fresh approach to treating trauma and anxiety.
  • Field Trip Health's Vision: Field Trip Health stands at the vanguard of psychedelic therapies.
  • Comparative Insights: Dr. Lipov elucidates the Stella Ganglion block's unique advantages.
  • Embracing Technological Advancements: Field Trip Health's innovative endeavors, like their custom patient portal, emphasize enhanced experiences.
  • Championing Accessible Care: Dr. Lipov calls for a shift in perceptions to democratize access to innovative treatments.
  • Data-Driven Psychiatry: The emphasis on measurement-based care points towards an evidence-driven future.
  • Telepsychiatry's Potential: Telepsychiatry promises to redefine global psychiatric care's accessibility and effectiveness.

Timestamps and Show-notes From the Episode:

3:33: Dr. Eugene Lipov discusses the invention of the Stella Ganglion block.

5:33: Mujeeb Jafferi shares the founding story of Field Trip Health.

8:53: The origin story of how Field Trip and Stella met and how their partnership evolved.

10:03: Discussion about Field Trip's rapid expansion and subsequent challenges. Transition from a B2B to a B2C model during the pandemic.

16:03: Challenges faced while opening the first Stella center, especially right before the pandemic.

18:13: Comparison of various treatments, with a focus on the Stella Ganglion block vs. TMS and ketamine. The increasing cultural awareness of ketamine.

19:53: Introduction of at-home ketamine services due to new telehealth laws. The partnership with NeuLife and the effectiveness of ketamine in different settings.

24:55: Dr. Lipov talks about the merger of Stella and Field Trip Health. He discusses the benefits of integration and the combination of treatments.

29:53: Mujeeb Jafferi's concerns about the merger, especially regarding the preservation of treatment protocols and quality of care.

32:18: Introduction of a new CTO and the technological innovations in place, including a custom patient portal.

35:43: A deep dive into the design and user experience of the Field Trip app.

38:23: Discussion about insurance coverage for different treatments, with a focus on Stella Ganglion blocks and ketamine.

45:03: The importance of data collection through measurement-based care and related research.

46:53: Dr. Eugene Lipov shares insights on epigenetics and its potential to reverse aging.

47:33: Discussion on self-funded employer plans, with a focus on advocating for covering novel treatments.

53:23: Speculation on the evolution of the Field Trip brand after the merger, emphasizing company name, people, and products.

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