Simone Biles and embattled mental health telehealth startup Cerebral have ended their partnership amid the company’s ongoing federal investigation and controversies around its alleged pressures to prescribe patients with ADHD medication.
In addition to being a legendary athlete, Biles has also been a marketing superstar, most recently helming the Pause is Power campaign for Powerade.
Biles first partnered with Cerebral in October 2021, with the company stating in a statement that she would address the stigma “surrounding mental health, encourage help-seeking behavior and expand access to mental health resources, especially within underserved communities.”
However, recent reporting from The Wall Street Journal indicates that there was ample drama behind the scenes between Cerebral and Biles’ camp.
Then-CEO Kyle Robertson reportedly told the company’s head of growth, Armaan Gandhi, to press Biles to focus on promoting the prescription services for Cerebral.
According to an internal memo from the Cerebral board of directors obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Robertson told Gandhi that Biles should be “aligning messaging better to our core value pop (eg meds, ADHD).” The article stated that the memo indicated that Robertson’s fixation on growing the company’s prescribing arm “created the market perception of Cerebral as a ‘pill mill.’”
Additionally, “contentious” conversations with Biles’ team led the board to express concerns that the partnership failing about would “create irreparable PR damage to the brand.”
By the end of 2021, Cerebral was ascending as a leader in the digital mental health space as more people used telehealth to receive behavioral health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the company raised more than $400 million in venture funding and earned a valuation of $4.8 billion.
However, 2022 has been a year of cascading challenges for Cerebral.
In May, the company acknowledged that it received a grand jury subpoena from the Department of Justice for possible violations of the Controlled Substances Act related to scrutiny that the company over-prescribed ADHD medication. In June, the Federal Trade Commission announced its own probe into the company’s business practices.
Shortly after the DOJ subpoena was made public, Robertson left the firm and was replaced as CEO by chief medical officer David Mou, MD, MBA.
Both Walmart and CVS said they wouldn’t fill the company’s prescriptions for controlled prescription drugs. Cerebral also paused stop prescribing Adderall to new patients with ADHD amid criticisms that the company valued growth over patient safety.
In a statement to MM+M this fall, Cerebral said the company’s clinical leadership decided to cease prescribing controlled substances to new patients in anticipation of the end of the public health emergency waiver to the Ryan Haight Act.
Amid the DOJ investigation and criticisms from the medical community alleging that its ads contained misleading health claims, both Meta and TikTok pulled some ads from their platforms.
Most recently, Cerebral said in late October that it would cut its workforce by 20% as part of a restructuring to focus on meeting patient demand and lower growth targets. A Cerebral spokesperson said the moves were made to “realize operational efficiencies while prioritizing clinical quality and safety across the organization.”
This story first appeared on mmm-online.com.