TARA Mind is a company that offers safe, affordable, and effective access to psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT). Pulse 2.0 interviewed TARA Mind founder and CEO Marcus Capone to learn more.
Marcus Capone’s Background
Capone graduated from the Navy’s Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training one month after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
“A year later, I began a 13-year odyssey as an active-duty Navy SEAL, deploying to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan over a total of six tours. But when I returned to civilian life in 2013, I faced another type of combat – this time with my mental health. This new, invisible enemy – stoked by PTSD, major depression, suicidal ideations, and mild traumatic brain injury – was as dangerous as any I’d faced overseas. I spent years undergoing traditional mental health treatments that included antidepressants, talk therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and visits to 5 different brain clinics. Nothing worked,” Capone reflected. “Feeling like we were out of options, a psychologist, whom my wife Amber had contacted to help determine our path forward, suggested psychedelic-assisted therapy (or PAT). Psychedelic plants and fungi have been used by indigenous communities for millennia for both ceremonial and medicinal purposes, but it wasn’t until I started to do my own research that I learned that psychedelics can be powerful tools for healing. Putting aside my initial skepticism, I decided it was worth a try. So on Veterans Day 2017, I traveled to Mexico to undergo psychedelic treatment.”
While at the clinic, he worked with a psychedelic-trained therapist who prepared him to set intentions and identify what he wanted out of the experience.
“Post-treatment I felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. So much of the frustration and anger that had built up inside me for years simply fell away. I won’t pretend that PAT is for everybody. But for me, it provided the relief that had eluded me for years. I was so overcome by relief that I asked Amber the questions that would ultimately lead to the founding of our nonprofit, which later became the launchpad for TARA Mind: “How do we pay this forward? How do we help more people heal?” Capone added. “In 2019, we launched VETS (Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions), a pioneering 501(c)(3) organization on a mission to end veteran suicide. Since launching VETS, we’re proud to have helped nearly 1,000 veterans successfully begin their own healing journeys – but outside the special operations and other veteran communities, I knew there was a growing population that could benefit from PAT, which is what led me to where I am today as CEO and Co-Founder of TARA Mind.”
Formation Of TARA Mind
How did the idea for TARA Mind come together? The success of VETS inspired Capone to co-found TARA Mind.
“The demand for safe and effective mental health treatment extends far beyond the veteran community, but there was no one building the infrastructure to serve this rapidly growing population,” Capone explained. “For me, the antidepressants and mood stabilizers that I took for years simply didn’t work. I was treatment resistant, a condition that affects as many as 60 percent of individuals struggling with their mental health and 1 in 3 diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. SSRIs – or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors – which work to increase serotonin levels in the brain, are the first things that practitioners traditionally prescribe to treat depression. But for many, they don’t and won’t work. This realization, coupled with the success stories coming out of VETS that seemed to demonstrate the healing power of psychedelic-assisted therapy, inspired me to build a company dedicated to expanding access to these therapies for the general population.”
In 2021, Capone started conversations with his friend Grant Verstandig, the founder and former CEO of Rally Health and past Chief Digital Officer at UnitedHealth.In 2022, they co-founded TARA Mind under the umbrella of Red Cell Partners, Verstandig’s incubation firm that is building and investing in technology-led companies that bring revolutionary advancements to healthcare and national security.
What has been Capone’s favorite memory working for TARA Mind? “In February our fully remote team assembled from all over the country for an intense and incredibly productive week of strategic planning and focused workshops in New York. Our team is small but mighty. It consists of founders, operators, clinicians, and technologists whose experience and advanced degrees are surpassed only by their drive and energy,” Capone pointed out. “This isn’t a group that needs motivation. They possess that in spades. From corporate America to start-ups, they have seen it all. But when I kicked us off with a Yoga Nidra Meditation, it was a first for many. Yoga Nidra allows us to access delta brainwaves which are responsible for healing and restoration. Normally occurring during sleep, it effectively allows our mind and body to rest while we are awake. Even a short session can reduce stress and anxiety. At TARA Mind I encourage constructive debate, different points of view, and respectful disagreement – it pushes us in all things to be better and to think laterally about often-challenging and uncharted decision-making territory. While it was a brief meditation, it was a simple, shared experience that connected us mentally and spiritually. “
Capone also noted that even in the trenches of building a business, it is important to support and remind each other to take these valuable moments, both together and independently.
What are some of the challenges Capone faced in building the company and has the current macroeconomic climate affected this? “Unfortunately, our nation is facing an outsized mental health crisis. With more than 70 million Americans grappling with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there is an imperative for TARA Mind to enter the market. More than $280 billion is spent on mental health services a year in the US, but those services only reach a tiny fraction of the population in need,” Capone emphasized. “The macroeconomic climate hasn’t been as much of a challenge as the issues of legalization and perception. Psychedelics are slowly shedding the stigma that emerged as part of the 60s hippy culture, the 70s war on drugs, and the 80s and 90s rave scene. Through objective, evidence-based research, psychedelics are increasingly becoming recognized as something that needs to be explored as a part of our clinical mental health toolkit alongside the traditional options like talk therapy and SSRIs.”
Another point worth noting is that with the excitement around psychedelics, there is the risk that people will rush to promote these substances as some panacea without putting in guardrails to ensure safety.
“When we discuss psychedelics, we have to take care not to give the impression that they alone are what result in healing. At TARA Mind, where safety and efficacy are our top priorities, we are advocating for psychedelic-assisted therapy. That means making it clear that while psychedelics are powerful tools for healing, they are only part of the equation. Therapy – complete with preparation, integration, and ongoing monitoring – the hallmarks of effective, comprehensive psychedelic treatment is what we anticipate will achieve the most enduring results,” Capone continued. “At TARA Mind, we operate within the confines of existing laws. Currently, ketamine – a dissociative anesthetic that produces psychedelic-like experiences – is the only “psychedelic” medicine in the US that can be prescribed for off-label use to treat mental health conditions like depression and suicidal ideations. That means, for now, TARA Mind is exclusively working with vetted, high-quality, licensed U.S.-based integrative medicine clinics and psychedelic-trained therapists. However, we are laying the groundwork to be able to leverage our infrastructure and tools to be able to expand our therapeutic offerings as various substances like MDMA and Psilocybin become FDA-approved in the United States in the coming years (both substances are designated FDA breakthrough therapies).”
What are TARA Mind’s core products and features? TARA Mind is building a safe and responsible ecosystem for psychedelic-assisted therapy in the US. This includes three core elements in various stages of development:
1.) The TARA Mind Provider Network is comprised of vetted and highly qualified psychedelic-therapy providers who include licensed US-based integrative medicine and ketamine clinics and trained PAT therapists. Once onboarded, the providers in The TARA Mind Provider Network are given exclusive access to digital measurement-based care tools designed to ensure safety, optimize outcomes, and trigger early interventions as necessary. These tools underpin data-driven measurement frameworks that will support value-based reimbursements for PAT by both employers and payors.
2.) The company has established clinical frameworks, also known as The TARA Mind Way – which providers in their network are required to adhere to. Since the company puts a high premium on safety and efficacy, this system (established in partnership with clinicians) ensures that individuals who receive treatment through the TARA Mind Provider Network are afforded care that incorporates the hallmarks of effective and comprehensive psychedelic treatment that the company refers to, collectively, as PTIM: Preparation, Treatment, Integration, and ongoing Monitoring.
3.) Synapse CNS is both a patient engagement platform and a provider portal. The platform facilitates operational efficiencies and houses measurement-based care tools for providers on the platform to manage and engage with their patient panels. Through Synapse, the company is going to be able to supply providers with de-identified real-world evidence to proactively improve on the existing standard of care. As more people experience PAT through TARA Mind, Synapse CNS will grow to house an irreplicable behavioral health data set. Utilizing this proprietary data set, the company intends to leverage machine learning matching capabilities to drive personalized treatment recommendations and even recruit, design, and simulate clinical trials.
“Our commitment to safety and efficacy is absolute and comes before all else. That is why we put such an emphasis on the importance of measurement-based care tools, which are vital to allowing practitioners to monitor their patients and track their response to therapy. Yet today, outside of the TARA Mind Provider Network, less than 20% of practitioners utilize these tools. At TARA Mind, we require that providers in our network utilize measurement-based care tools to responsibly monitor when treatment is working and when it is not. For instance, the Kennedy Forum reports that when using clinical judgment alone, mental health providers detect deterioration in only 19% of their clients who experience worsening symptoms. That means that increased symptom severity is missed in more than 80% of patients whose providers fail to use measurement-based care tools,” Capone affirmed. “Our mission not only focuses on safety but also affordability and ensuring equitable access to these therapies. To make this a reality, we are working with early-adopter employers to add the TARA Mind network as a supplemental benefit to their existing health plans. Our hope is that these steps will remove health equity barriers for individuals while driving ROI for the employer through significant reductions in employee medical costs, absenteeism, and turnover.”
What have been some of TARA Mind’s most significant milestones? “Our parent company Red Cell Partners, has developed a rigorous development pipeline for its incubations. This process is punctuated by a series of go/no-go evaluations by the Red Cell Investment Committee, which consists of some of the world’s most pre-eminent and pioneering leaders across the industry, including Dr. Jack Rowe, the former chairman and CEO of Aetna; Dr. Mark T. Esper, the 27th Secretary of Defense; and Dr. Roger W. Ferguson Jr., the former President and CEO of TIAA and Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve. Our first significant milestone was our 2022 Investment Committee approval to receive the funding and resources we needed to begin to build the team and expand product development,” Capone answered. “This spring, I had the opportunity to speak at both the Business Group on Health annual conference to an elite group of HR, benefits, and well-being leaders from Fortune 500 companies as well as at the Milken Global Conference to thought leaders across finance, venture, and healthcare. In a space that has been plagued by stigma and lack of forward progress for decades, the broad-based interest, excitement, and support for what we are building have outpaced what I ever thought was possible. I believe this truly is the future of mental healthcare in America.”
TARA Mind received $3 million in funding from its parent company Red Cell Partners, through the Red Cell Investment Fund (RCIF), which officially launched the company out of stealth in April of 2023.
Total Addressable Market
What total addressable market (TAM) size is TARA Mind pursuing? “Initially, we are focused on the treatment-resistant depression (TRD) population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 9% of the American adult population suffers from major depressive disorder (MDD). Of those with MDD, one-third are treatment resistant – meaning traditional therapies do not and will not work for them. This population costs US healthcare payors and employers over $29 billion per year,” Capone assessed.
Differentiation From The Competition
What differentiates TARA Mind from its competition? “Our business model and our team set us apart from our competitors. To date, no one has solved for both access and affordability. On the one hand, you have physical clinics set up to administer care. These businesses – many of which are partners of ours – are capital-intensive businesses that are struggling, not with demand for their offering, but with a sufficient customer base that is both willing and able to pay for the cost of treatment. On the other hand, you have companies invested in drug development, which requires them to follow a long and expensive process in the US. TARA Mind has created its own category. We are the first tech-enabled platform that connects individuals struggling with mental health conditions with a safe and effective alternative solution via a nationally qualified provider network where the cost is subsidized by employer-sponsored benefit plans,” Capone revealed. “Our team is made up of seasoned entrepreneurs, healthcare veterans, technologists, and operators who have successfully built, scaled, and exited digital startups in the past.”
Scientific Advisory Board
During the interview, Capone also acknowledged the company’s “phenomenal” Scientific Advisory Board, which consists of leading physicians and scientists who are renowned in the psychedelic space, helping to define and advance the standard of care in PAT.
“It is truly gratifying to have the TARA Mind name associated with the likes of Dr. Sandhya Prashad, Founder and President of the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, Psychotherapists, and Practitioners; Dr. Jerry Rosenbaum, Harvard Medical School’s Stanley Cobb Professor of Psychiatry; Dr. Nolan Williams, Stanford University School of Medicine’s Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; and Dr. Rachel Yehuda, an Endowed Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience of Trauma at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai,” Capone cited.
Future Company Goals
What are some of TARA Mind’s future company goals? “At TARA Mind, our vision is for a world where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, are given equal opportunities to explore research-backed alternative treatment options for their mental wellness and healing that are safe, affordable, and effective,” Capone concluded. “PAT didn’t just offer me a way out of the dark place that had consumed me for years, I believe it saved my life. It is my life’s mission to give others in need the same opportunity to find a way out of their darkness and into a place where they have hope and even joy. That means enabling safe and affordable access to PAT, of course. It also means helping employers and payors recognize the role they play, and the benefits they will garner from partnering to offer millions of people the care they need to live happy and productive lives.”
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