Psychedelics startups are combating stereotypes to deliver hallucinogens into psychological well being care
LSD, magic mushrooms, MDMA, ketamine, DMT… it’s a suspect product line for a reputable company – and psychedelics startups know it. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the industry is wary of the stereotypes surrounding hallucinogens.
“What the industry really needs is the dullest person in the room presenting the topic,” says Clara Burtenshaw, co-founder of Neo Kuma VenturesEurope’s largest VC fund for psychedelic healthcare.
It would be harsh to call Burtenshaw the dullest person in the room, But she’s not the stereotypical travel lover. More of a polished entrepreneur than a kaleidoscopic hippie, Burtenshaw was a corporate attorney before turning to psychedelic healthcare.
It was an unusual career change with a familiar cause: witnessing loved ones struggle with their mental health. Burtenshaw believed that psychedelics might offer a better cure.
In late 2019, she co-founded Neo Kuma (Greek for “New Wave”) to invest in the treatments. Her timing proved to be prescient. Within weeks, the world was plunged into a mental health epidemic.
Burtenshaw spoke to TNW at TechChill Riga in April. Photo credit: TechChill
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 outbreak. Already understaffed and underfunded, the psychiatric services were stretched to the limit.
Inevitably an upswing demand for medicines followed. But that only accelerated the prevailing trend. In Europe, antidepressant use has more than doubled in the past 20 years.
The drug can be life-saving, but the benefits are not evenly distributed. about a A third of patients are resistant to the mood improvements of the treatment. Others may suffer side effectsdependence or withdrawal symptoms.
“It’s about developing the blockbuster drugs of tomorrow.
As antidepressant use increased sharply, some researchers began to claim that this was the case little better than placebo. A Recent study noticed, that The ten most commonly prescribed drugs made a significant difference in only 15% of the patients who took them.
An alternative is psychedelic treatments. While traditional antidepressants are taken regularly and for long periods of time, this is simply not the case a travel Concomitant therapy can have lifelong benefits.
This transformative potential offers great business opportunities. The global mental health market was already appreciated in 2020 at 380 billion US dollars (356 billion euros). By 2030 it should be 538 billion US dollars (503 billion euros).
The part where Burtenshaw’s objective will come from Psychedelic drug development – a sub-sector that Europe is leading.
The continent is home to some of the major players in space Atai Life Sciencesa German startup testing an MDMA derivative for PTSD to the UK Beckley Psychotech, which recently received FDA approval to test a compound found in toads to treat alcoholism. The wealth, Burtenshaw hopes, will come after intellectual property is patented.
“That’s how you see your return on investment,” she says. “It’s about developing the blockbuster drugs of tomorrow.”
Tomorrow’s blockbuster drugs won’t be ready overnight. The process of developing, testing, licensing, and distributing new drugs is lengthy — but the payoff could be huge.
Analysts predict the psychedelic healthcare industry will be worthwhile $6.9 billion (€6.4 billion) by 2027. But before the industry can benefit from this, it must first convince the skeptics.
Once regulators approve a drug, it changes from an illegal substance to a recognized substance Medicine. But the way there Psychedelics is lengthy and dangerous. To win their support, the sector needs to win clinical arguments.
“Psychedelics attract evangelists who talk about all the wonderful aspects of treatment and maybe sugarcoat the risks,” says Burtenshaw. “But we need to take a data-driven, evidence-based approach when looking at these treatments.”
And that evidence base is growing. A growing body of research has shown that psychoactive substances can lead to therapeutic breakthroughs in various mental health problems.
In one breedj Neo assisted veterans received controlled doses of MDMA. Over two-thirds (68%) experienced complete remission of PTSD. The other 32% felt significant relief.
“This was completely unknown in psychiatry — we don’t see results like that,” says Burtenshaw. “And many of these patients are veterans who had ingrained PTSD and had a history of unsuccessful treatments.”
A wave of research into psychedelics after World War II was curtailed as the US government escalated the war on drugs. It has been revitalized in recent years. Photo credit: Beckley Foundation
Promising results have also been obtained at compass pathsa startup that was listed on the Nasdaq in September 2020. The UK-based company has developed a synthetic form of psilocybin – a psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms – to treat treatment-resistant depression (TRD). which is diagnosed after conventional medicine has proved ineffective.
A study published last year found that the substance can significantly relieve severe depression. After taking a single 25 mg dose and psychological support, about 39% of the participants were in remission by week three. It is noteworthy that the greatest effect occurred one day after treatment. In contrast, traditional antidepressants take several weeks to reach their maximum effect.
Both treatments are now awaiting regulatory review – which would open them up to the market. Burtenshaw believes they can push psychedelic healthcare more broadly into the mainstream.
“What we’ve seen with psychedelics is the potential for people to really understand the root cause of their trauma, deal with it head-on, work with a therapist to come to terms with it, and then move on with their lives,” She says.
like Burtenshaw, Clerkenwell health CEO Tom McDonald isn’t your typical hallucinogen lover. McDonald worked for ten years in management consulting at major pharmaceutical companies before joining Clerkenwell, a British startup conducting clinical trials for psychedelic treatments.
McDonald spoke at a panel discussion at TechChill Riga in April. Photo credit: TechChill
The change of occupation “d“I’ve definitely raised eyebrows with friends and family,” says McDonald.
“There’s still a lot of stigma around, but everyone in the industry is trying to normalize it. And data speaks – as do emotional stories.”
Such stories are powerful tools for changing perceptions, but the most effective narratives are localized.
In the US, for example, stories of military veterans using psychedelics to overcome trauma have won over skeptics. In the UK, the impact on patients with terminal illnesses has now drawn more public sympathy. That compassion could bring the benefits closer home.
Polls have shown that stories combined with data can garner public support. Photo credit: Drug Science
Currently, most European citizens would have to travel abroad to access psychedelic therapies, but there are signs that the regional divide is narrowing.
In the UK, for example, politicians from across the political spectrum are rallying support for treatment. Last month, Conservative politician Crispin Blunt warned that the country’s regulation of psychedelics “lags behind Australia, Canada and the United States”.
Blunt said the substances would “help combat too many people’s pathetic addiction” to antidepressants. The veteran MP wants psilocybin moved from a Schedule 1 drug to the lower-risk Schedule 2 drug, which would allow researchers to further explore its potential as a drug.
“Science underscores their immense potential.
His appeal reflects recent petitions in the EU. Just last week, it came down to a cross-party faction of lawmakers started a new group aiming to increase access to affordable and safe novel therapeutic uses of psychedelics on the block.
“Millions of Europeans need better treatments,” said Czech MEP Mikuláš Peksa. “We need to ensure that novel psychedelic treatments are considered, as the science behind them underscores their immense potential.”
This immense potential is not only appealing to politicians. Relaxing the rules would also create diverse opportunities for the technology – and start-ups are poised to take advantage of it.
Europe’s psychedelics startups have already explored extensive digital applications. They range from April 19th‘s AI drug discovery platform and Beckley Psytech’s biomarkers for patient tracking homecoming App for therapists and wave paths personalized music for the treatment.
One of their most notable traits is adaptability, which could expand their uses of psychedelics into the broader health and wellness markets.
In Wavepaths psychedelics sessions, patients wear an eye mask and listen to music while receiving personal support from psychotherapists. Photo credit: Wavepaths
Given this variety of opportunities, the industry has reason to be optimistic. But start-ups have to act and attract in the long term patient capital.
“I think the market landscape in five years’ time will be very different than it is now,” says Burtenshaw. “What we expect is the dovetailing of destigma with the introduction of these treatments.”
However, the road to market seems long and treacherous. Regulatory hurdles, a perilous financial landscape, and slow profit paths have somewhat dampened the excitement surrounding psychedelics. But in the crucial battle of hearts and minds, the chances of victory grow.