May 22, 2024

Former US mental health chief left Google’s life sciences arm to launch his own health startup

Tom Insel, the former head of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), has left his position at Google’s life sciences company Verily to found his own mental health startup, Mindstrong.

First reported in Nature, the new startup will try to analyze a person’s mental health state using information on their smartphone. Note Verily is working on a similar program to build tools, possibly including smartphones, that can recognize behaviors of mental illness using a method known as digital phenotyping.

Insel told Nature there are now “a handful” of companies working on digital phenotyping. Mindstrong takes a similar approach to gathering mental health data.

Verily hasn’t yet launched its mental health component but has started on some of the initial work, according to Insel. We’ve reached out to Verily to find out more about the possible competitive nature of Mindstrong and what Verily is working on.

Insel also said his departure was not because of any conflicts within Verily, which has lost several top scientists after the addition of its new CEO Andrew Conrad.

Verily confirmed the departure Monday, stating on its blog, “We are bidding a fond farewell to Dr. Thomas Insel, who has helped shape our vision and to build a multidisciplinary team of mental health clinical researchers, data scientists, product designers, and software engineers, all passionately committed to rethinking the way we approach diagnosis and care in mental health. We look forward to carrying this vision forward!”

Insel left the NIMH to work with Verily on a mental health program in 2015.

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