Methadone management startup Sonara has raised $3 million in venture funding from First Trust Capital Partners and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas.
The company – backed by a well-known “shark” investor – was created in order to enable patients to take their methadone dose at home, as opposed to going to a methadone clinic daily.
Methadone is used to treat opioid use disorders (OUD), but it does come with significant risks of misuse. As a result, the bulk of patients taking methadone are required to make daily trips to the methadone clinic, where a provider can observe them take their medication.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration guidance requires patients to have in-person supervision for at least the first 30 days before allowing at-home treatment. However, many opioid treatment providers require patients to continue to take the medication in-person for years.
This funding announcement comes as the opioid crisis continues to devastated the U.S. The CDC reported 91,799 overdose deaths in 2020. That was up 31% from 2019. The bulk of those deaths (74.8%) involved opioids.
Methadone can be particularly effective in treating patients with a higher tolerance to opioids.
“The importance of methadone is increasing, because we need potent opioid receptor agonists like methadone to really combat these insanely powerful illicit opioids like fentanyl,” Dr. Michael Giles, CEO of Sonara, told Behavioral Health Business. “Buprenorphine is an important treatment, and it helps many people. But it just doesn’t cut it for these patients for using lots of fentanyl.”
Giles was inspired to start the company after seeing the challenges patients face accessing methadone when he was on rotation for his medical residency.
“All the patients had to come to the clinic six days a week for the first 90 days of treatment, and wait in line for minutes to hours to receive a single dose of life saving medication,” he said.
Many patients left the care because they had to do daily tasks like go to work or take care of their children.
Fueled by an initial $2.25 million in pre-seed investments from Mark Cuban and other investors, Giles and his team began to build out Sonara in 2020.
“We built Sonara, which is this trust building application, designed specifically for [opioid treatment providers] OTPs that monitors how patients are taking their methadone at home,” Giles said. “It gives providers confidence and the patient’s ability to safely handle medication so that they get more take-home methadone earlier in the course of their treatment than they otherwise would have got.”
The way the Sonara system works is each methadone bottle is fitted with a taper-aware label that is able to track medication compliance. When a patient takes their daily methadone treatment, they log into the Sonara web application, which can be accessed through low-quality smartphones.
Patients then scan the QR code on the label before opening the medication. Next, patients film themselves taking the methadone.
Sonara is currently contracting with OTPs. In the future, the startup is looking to partner with insurers and fit into a value-based care paradigm.
Giles said a fee-for-service model incentivizes physicians to have patients come into a clinic for supervised methadone treatments. But he added that remote medication management tools could help provide more value to patients in the future.
“We really want to work with payers to use Sonara to create a reimbursement structure that allows for remotely supervised dosing that’s reimbursable,” Giles said. “That way providers are rewarded for improved quality of care and improved outcomes, essentially.”