17 Apr 2023

SME Member of the Week: Big Health

Big Health is the second of April's SME Member of the Week. This month, techUK focusing on Healthtech. Throughout April, we are showcasing how SME members have developed innovative technologies within health and social care, and who are ensuring the UK's health systems are prepared for the future.

Big Health is a digital therapeutics company and creator of the award-winning Sleepio.

How did your company start?

The idea for Big Health was born when co-founder Peter Hames had trouble getting anything other than medication for his insomnia, despite clinical guidelines recommending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). He discovered Prof. Colin Espie’s book on CBT for insomnia and used it to treat and successfully recover from his insomnia. He realised what had worked for him could work for millions, giving patients and clinicians genuine choice of treatment options beyond pharmaceuticals. Prof. Espie became Peter’s co-founder and together they created Big Health with a clear mission: to help millions back to good mental health.

To achieve this mission, Big Health creates digital therapeutics for common mental health conditions. Digital therapeutics represent a novel category of treatment compared to the traditional categories of pharmaceuticals and in-person talking therapies. Put simply, digital therapeutics are therapeutics, delivered digitally:

  • Therapeutics - evidence-based interventions designed to treat or manage a certain condition, backed by rigorous clinical evidence
  • Digital - the therapeutic content is delivered entirely digitally, e.g. via an app, without the need for clinician involvement

We combine leading clinical insight with the best in design and technology to build digital therapeutics that make evidence-based treatment accessible to all - including communities traditionally underserved by mental health care. We’re doing this with evidence and integrity at our core, with our treatments backed by industry-leading peer-reviewed research and randomised controlled trials.

We have two treatments being deployed across whole populations in the UK and the US:

  • Sleepio is our digital therapeutic for insomnia
  • Daylight is our digital therapeutic for generalised anxiety disorder

Focusing on Sleepio for a moment, it’s hard to think of an area of life that sleep doesn’t affect, from how you feel on a daily basis to your long-term health. A good night’s sleep is the most important health behaviour in our lives. Unfortunately, sleep problems affect 1 in 3 people in the UK at any one time, and about 10% of the population is affected on a chronic basis. That can mean problems falling asleep, staying asleep or with the quality of sleep. In addition, evidence shows that poor sleep is highly comorbid with other mental and physical health problems such as anxiety and depression.

That’s where Sleepio comes in. We’ve developed a highly personalised experience based on the patient’s goals, needs and sleep history - making support accessible through online and mobile platforms. The lessons are taught by ‘The Prof’, a virtual sleep expert, whose use of humor and light-heartedness offers an entertaining way of learning critical sleep knowledge. The sessions are underpinned by a motivational system and community support.

Fast forward 9 years, Sleepio has become the first-ever digital therapeutic to receive positive guidance from NICE and is now pioneering a new era to make digital treatments available to millions. 

How does your company contribute to this month's theme?

This month's theme is HealthTech and I think BigHealth personifies what we mean by HealthTech innovation - using technology to tackle an urgent challenge in healthcare by improving access and outcomes for patients and delivering cost savings for the public purse.

Innovation is a hot topic, yet it’s frustratingly rare to see innovation succeed at scale. There are many understandable reasons for this, including a lack of digital maturity in the health systems we serve, competing priorities for funding, the challenge of how to integrate digital solutions into existing care pathways, and the scale of behaviour change required to do so.

Big Health offers an example of innovation wholeheartedly succeeding at scale. Through a collaborative approach to partnership with health systems in Scotland and England to date, Big Health has demonstrated how industry can co-produce and support a traditional health system to evolve to working in a different way. The old adage ‘it’s not just what you do, but the way that you do it’ comes to mind.

This success is exemplified by Sleepio becoming the first-ever digital therapeutic to receive a positive recommendation from NICE (https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/mtg70): “Sleepio is recommended as a cost saving option for treating insomnia and insomnia symptoms in primary care for people who would otherwise be offered sleep hygiene or sleeping pills.”

NICE’s recommendation lights the way for other innovators, acting as a beacon for how HealthTech can be integrated firmly into existing models of evaluation, reimbursement, and patient access. Big Health may be the first organisation to have reached this milestone, but we hope our example means we won’t be the last.

Who's behind your company?

I’ve already mentioned our fabulous founders Peter and Colin, both of whom remain actively involved in our business to this day. Their founding story, grounded in lived experience of insomnia and of working on the frontline in the NHS, has imbued Big Health with strong values of integrity, humility, and patient-centricity.

Today, we are operational in the UK and in the US, led by our Chief Executive, Arun Gupta, and our Executive Leadership Team. Our UK operations, led by Managing Director Will Goddard, focus on partnering with the NHS to integrate our digital therapeutics into existing clinical services. It’s fair to say that if we can successfully scale our innovation across the length and breadth of the UK with the NHS, this will offer a highly credible exemplar to the rest of the world. It’s an exciting time!

We owe a significant part of our success to strong collaboration and support from the many different parts of the health system and innovation partners we work with. In particular, the NHS Innovation Accelerator, Innovate UK, England’s Academic Health Science Networks, the Scottish Government, NICE, and NHS organisations and teams across the UK have guided and supported us to develop the most robust and relevant evidence base, in academic settings and in the real world, that gives confidence of the value our digital therapeutics can deliver for NHS services.

At the core of our business is our fabulous team. We are all united with a common mission to help millions back to good mental health, underscored by our values of integrity, humility, and patient-centricity. Every member of our team at all levels of the business have played an integral role in our success.  Big Healthers are a special bunch of people: one company, one mission. 

What’s your perspective on the present and the future of this month's theme?

With digital technologies playing an increasingly important role in healthcare, patients are more frequently empowered to take control of their own health and of their care journey. Digitally-enabled care offers potential to significantly improve patient outcomes while freeing up scarce resource capacity and saving costs for the system. What Covid and its direct aftermath have shown is that there is no going back. Embracing the potential of digital is essential for the NHS to recover and thrive.

And yet, within the vast landscape of ‘digital’, the digital therapeutics industry is still in its infancy. Only a few health systems around the world have caught up to their potential and designed systems to evaluate, reimburse, and distribute digital therapeutics to people in need. The NHS is on the cusp of doing so.

Therefore in the UK, Big Health is pioneering this process for the whole of the industry. As a member of TechUK’s Health and Social Care Committee and the Life Science Forum, it’s been a privilege to support the whole HealthTech industry with better engagement and communication with regulators, health leaders and policy makers across the four nations. We believe that the work that we do to support the mission of TechUK in turn supports the whole ecosystem of health technologists, ultimately benefiting patients, clinicians, and the system, as well as helping to position the UK as a favourable environment for inward investment in HealthTech.

Recent Success

We were delighted to celebrate with our partner the Scottish Government’s Digital Mental Health Team when they won the Best Primary Care Digital Project award at the HETT Unexpected Innovation Awards 2022. This epitomised our highly collaborative approach when working with healthcare systems - ensuring that digital therapeutics are thoughtfully integrated with existing care services to improve overall patient care.  This award recognised schemes that have adopted a digital-first model in the provision of primary care, incorporating the core attributes of general practice: continuity, coordination and community focus. 

What does the future look like for your company?

Big Health’s future is tied to our mission: to help millions back to good mental health. Importantly, there is no asterisk after the word ‘millions’. Our ultimate goal is to help every person worldwide who is in need of safe, effective, non-drug treatment for common mental health conditions.  To get there, we will continue to partner closely with world-leading health systems like the NHS to reach more and more people in need. We will continuously improve our treatments and our implementation approaches; we will prioritise hard-to-reach populations and those typically underserved by mental health services; and we will continue to generate gold-standard clinical and real-world evidence to prove the impact our treatments have for patients, clinicians, and healthcare systems.     

Asks for other members

It’s always great to hear the wins and difficulties facing similar industry organisations from TechUK membership.  As a member of the Health and Social Care council and the life sciences forum, I’m also really keen to understand, from the perspective of other teams, the challenges and indeed the opportunities faced by colleagues in the sector.  I work hard to ensure that I use the privilege in my role to represent industry broadly, especially in the new and emerging digital therapeutics market.  Please do get in touch with me directly if you’d like to share your experience with me or indeed, have ideas and suggestions about how we can make the UK a winning hotbed of transformational and exportable digital health and tech ideas.  

More information

Website - Big Health 

SME Member of the Week: May - Local Public Services Innovation

For May's SME Member of the Week, we’ll be focusing on local public services innovation. Local public services are faced with a range of challenges and digital presents the opportunity to do things differently and smarter. We want to showcase SME members who have worked with local authorities to find solutions that improve outcomes for citizens and help create thriving, productive and safer places for all.