Digital health company Oto raises $3 million for tinnitus support tool –

British startup Oto has raised £2.8 million ($3.3 million) in seed funding for a mobile app that aims to help people with tinnitus manage ringing, buzzing or other noises in their ears that can affect their quality of life.

The app doesn’t promise to treat tinnitus – in fact, there is no approved treatment for the condition, which affects one in seven people worldwide.

The app – also called Oto and available to download from the App Store and Google Play – offers a series of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, medical exercises and relaxation techniques designed to help people limit the effects of tinnitus, helping people live with the symptoms.

It revolves around a technique called habituation, the phenomenon that allows people to “switch off” from unpleasant noises such as traffic or noisy motors after being exposed to the sound for a period of time, while focusing on conversation or music.

According to the company, the tools train the brain of a person with tinnitus to react differently to sound, getting changes in their neural network, meaning it registers less and less ringing or other noises.

Face-to-face CBT has proven effective for people with tinnitus, but the typical waiting time for this therapy can be up to nine months on the NHS – even before the long waiting lists resulting from the pandemic backlog – and is expensive if paid privately.

Oto’s founding team includes former RAF and Navy doctors Dr Edmund Farrar and Dr George Leidig (pictured above), who both developed tinnitus in their mid-twenties and say that they “both had a chance to adapt and get used to it, but learning to live with the ringing was difficult.

No help was available when they needed it, according to the co-founders, who claim that 86% of Oto users report benefits after just one month. It’s available for free with a seven-day trial, followed by a monthly subscription.

The seed funding round was led by Octopus Ventures, backed by Goodwater Capital and Y Combinator. with participation from existing investors Calm Storm Ventures and Bethnal Green Ventures.

Y Combinator also provided the London-based company with around £510,000 in pre-seed funding earlier this year.

Octopus Ventures investor Kamran Adle said: “For many it is a condition they have no choice but to learn to live with.” Oto’s team, however, refuses to get used to it and instead comes up with a 10 times cheaper and more convenient way to help people manage their condition.

Other digital health companies have tried to tackle tinnitus, including TinniTracks, whose digital therapy app applies an algorithm the company says can turn the music patients listen to into neuro-acoustic therapy, provided that a patient’s tinnitus frequency is known.

The app works by filtering out the patient’s individual tinnitus frequency from the music, reducing the stimulation of overactive nerve cells in the auditory center of the brain linked to the condition, according to the company. The app has been approved as a reimbursed medical device in Germany.

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