CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER never drank alcohol or smoked a cigarette. He is, however, a fan of ketamine. In January, ATAI Life Sciences, the German biotechnology company he founded last year, acquired a majority stake in Perception Neuroscience, a New York biopharmaceutical company that is developing a drug for psychiatric conditions, such as depression of the drug, which is illegal in parts of the country. world (though not in America). Along with Peter Thiel, a veteran Silicon Valley investor known for headline betting, ATAI has also supported COMPASS Pathways, a London startup that aims to be the first legal provider of psilocybin, which gives magic to mushrooms.
Angermayer and Thiel are not alone in investing money in the medical application of psychedelics. A handful of investors see these drugs following the path of cannabis, whose increasing decriminalization has spurred commercial interest in the medical uses of the herb. In particular, advocates think that psychedelic drugs could be used to treat mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and addiction. In April, Imperial College London opened the first research center dedicated to psychedelic research. Last month, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore launched America's first scientific equipment.
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The antidepressant market is disappointingly large. More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. A report last year by the Lancet Commission, a body of experts, estimated that mental health disorders could cost the global economy $ 16 trillion by 2030. Antidepressant sales were $ 14 billion in 2017 and analysts expect that they will grow to $ 16 billion to 19 billion by the middle of the next decade.
In October last year, the Food and Drug Administration of America awarded the designation "COMPASS innovative therapy", which accelerates the approval process. The company is using the $ 38 million raised to conduct the largest psilocybin clinical study ever. Ekaterina Malievskaia, her co-founder, expects therapy to be commercialized within five years "if all goes well," including science. Patients would receive carefully controlled doses in single sessions by therapists. These can last all day and cost $ 1,000 per pop. Field Trip Ventures, a Canadian startup, plans to open specialist clinics where they can be run (and conducted clinical trials).
Skeptics doubt that COMPASS could market its drug by 2024 – if any. Concerns about the side effects of psychedelics, which may include drug-induced psychosis, abound. And it is not clear that their medical use could be more than a niche. Complicated treatments make psychedelics harder to scale than cannabis, which can be self-administered in spliffs, cakes and other forms. Field Trip Ventures co-founder Ronan Levy admits that. Big Pharma has clearly followed, preferring pills that can be made cheaper once approved and need to be taken regularly rather than once, providing constant revenue streams. That left an opening for startups like COMPASS. Time will tell if leading people through the gates of perception is a stubborn business proposition – or a travel proposal. ■