Health Evolution | March 4, 2021
In this Innovation Lab interview series, Sawyer discusses the company’s digital therapeutic that addresses the underlying physiological cause of anxiety disorders like panic attacks and PTSD.
Freespira is in a position akin to rarified air: an FDA-cleared digital therapeutic. In this case, the combination of an at-home device, software and tele-health coaching that helps people with panic disorder and PTSD reduce their symptoms — or even achieve full remission.
Health Evolution interviewed Sawyer about the theory and subsequent research that inspired a research subject to start the company and a veteran Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist to invest in the technology, how it helps patients with panic disorder and PTSD normalize breathing, cost-savings health plans have earned using it, and more.
What’s the origin story or the inspiration fueling Freespira?
Sawyer: The origin story is that the product is based on research at Stanford University about a theory that there is an underlying physiological cause of panic disorder (and later PTSD), which was that chronic hyperventilation and hypersensitivity to carbon dioxide (CO2) serves as a trigger for patients exposed to trauma or stress. To test that hypothesis researchers brought subjects into the lab who were having multiple panic attacks per week and gave them a single gulp of CO2 enriched air and almost all of the subjects had a panic attack on the spot. That confirmed their hypothesis and led to a clinical study to see if normalizing CO2 and respiratory rate would make a difference. The study was very successful with 68% of subjects becoming panic attack free…