Peter Thiel, the well-known tech investor, has shifted his focus from tech and politics to mental health. He is now investing in treating depression and other mental health problems with psilocybin. This is the mind-altering substance in magic mushrooms.
The interest in psilocybin is growing fast, there are indications that this substance could help with various mental problems. And proper scientific research can ensure that psilocybin can be used as a medicine.
Psilocybin as a medicine
Shrooms have potential: psilocybin is more than just a drug you can trip on. It can also be used as a treatment method for depression, addiction, OCD and anxiety. Mushrooms and other psychedelics have always been used by free-thinking and independent people, and they are not really in favor of pharmaceutical companies wanting to turn psilocybin into a drug.
Still, thorough research can go a long way in determining the strength and efficacy of the substance. If you want to use a drug as a medicine for mental complaints, then certain conditions are needed. For example, it is important that a scientist knows exactly what the chemical composition of the drug is and whether the dosage is consistent. Otherwise, you can never know exactly how much of the drug you are giving to a patient. You need to know exactly how long the drug will work and what that effect will be.
For that reason one is busy developing synthetic psilocybin. Then you can meet the above requirements more easily. It also makes the production of the fabric easier and more controllable. For this reason, a lot of research is needed, and therefore also a lot of money. That’s where Peter Thiel comes in.
External financing is needed
The originally German Peter Thiel is known as co-founder of Paypal and Palantir Technologies. He recently backed a Berlin start-up that is developing psychedelic drugs. Thiel put 10 million euros into the work of ATAI Life Sciences. The company received $125 million during this funding round, to develop psychedelic drugs to treat anxiety, addiction and depression.
Thiel is behind the company because, in his opinion, they take mental illness as seriously as we should have taken all illnesses. ATAI is a development platform that collaborates with other drug development companies. They have previously helped develop ar-ketamine, for example. This is a drug that can be used to treat therapy-resistant depression. ibogaine from the company DemeRx, which can be used for opioid addiction, is another such drug.
Angermayer, co-founder of ATAI, is confident in the drugs the company is developing. Still, it’s a complicated process and they encounter all sorts of obstacles. It’s not just about science, it’s also about politics. And you can still mess everything up if you bet on the wrong process design. Nevertheless, he believes that this is the right way to go. He believes that the current treatments for psychological complaints are absolutely inadequate. For some people regular treatments work, but for a large part they don’t or don’t adequately work.
Developments do not stand still
Probably for that reason, Thiel also supported Compass Pathways with a donation. The British company raised $80 million, which they will use to fund research on psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. In any case, the FDA stands behind the study. Compass Pathways was labeled Breakthrough Therapy because their clinical evidence for therapy with synthetic psilocybin was very promising. The FDA is allowing the review process of the drug to speed up. Compass Pathways is going to try to get the treatment to market by 2025.
There is increasing interest in alternative treatments for mental illness. The possibilities of psychedelics spark the imagination. The way they work is somewhat mysterious, why exactly they work is not even always clear. And besides psilocybin as a medicine, the possibilities of microdosing are increasingly being explored. This means that you only take a very small dose (1/10 of a normal dose), which can reduce your mental symptoms, without noticing the mind-altering effects.
Either way, more research is needed. And therefore, of course, money is needed. A lot of money. It is the business community that can contribute to this. As philanthropic as some people are (Thiel is also seen as a philanthropist), there is money to be made in drug development. In 2018 alone, the antidepressant market was worth $14 billion. So it’s not just because of humanity that companies want to put money into psychedelics as medicine. That might bother some people. But the research is necessary and in this way doors are opened that would otherwise remain closed.