Charles Nichols, LSU School of Medicine

Could psy­che­delics tack­le the obe­si­ty cri­sis? A long­time re­searcher in the field says his lat­est mouse study sug­gests po­ten­tial

Psy­che­delics have ex­pe­ri­enced a re­nais­sance in re­cent years amid a tor­rent of pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal re­search sug­gest­ing it might pro­vide a path to treat mood dis­or­ders con­ven­tion­al reme­dies have on­ly scraped at. Now a pre­clin­i­cal tri­al from a young biotech sug­gests at least one psy­che­del­ic com­pound has ef­fects be­yond the mind, and — if you be­lieve the still very, very ear­ly hype — could pro­vide the first sin­gle rem­e­dy for some of the main com­pli­ca­tions of obe­si­ty.

A study in mice fund­ed by Eleu­sis and pub­lished in Sci­en­tif­ic Re­ports found a long-known drug called (R)-DOI could be used to treat car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, re­duc­ing in­flam­ma­tion in the aor­ta, de­creas­ing over­all and HDL cho­les­terol lev­els, and po­ten­tial­ly curb­ing di­a­betes by in­creas­ing glu­cose tol­er­ance.

Lead au­thor Charles Nichols says di­a­betes and high cho­les­terol, though of­ten re­sults of the same un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion, re­quire sep­a­rate drugs and a re­strict­ed di­et.

“This mod­el that treats car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and meta­bol­ic dis­ease — it’s all-en­com­pass­ing,” Nichols, a pro­fes­sor of phar­ma­col­o­gy at LSU, told End­points News. “Trans­lat­ed in­to the clin­ic in hu­mans, it would be as if some­one was obese, had di­a­betes, had high cho­les­terol, and was able to take a low dose of this drug at a sub-be­hav­ioral lev­el and re­al­ly treat sev­er­al dif­fer­ent as­pects of the com­pli­ca­tions of be­ing obese.”

They’re bold words, though al­most mut­ed in a psy­che­del­ic field brim­ming with hype. Re­searchers have called the re­sults of some psy­chi­atric stud­ies “mind-blow­ing” as clin­i­cal tri­als hint at the pow­er of psilo­cy­bin (the chem­i­cal in mag­ic mush­rooms) to al­le­vi­ate de­pres­sion and MD­MA to re­lieve PTSD.

David Nichols Pur­due

The no­tion that the same class of drugs might have oth­er phys­i­o­log­i­cal and specif­i­cal­ly an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry ef­fects is new­er. Nichols, the son of long­time psy­che­del­ic re­search pro­po­nent David Nichols, un­der­stands the rhetoric can get rosy but points out that the tri­al was tar­get­ed. They test­ed DOI in oth­er types of tis­sue and when it had lit­tle ef­fect, fo­cused on vas­cu­lar in­di­ca­tions.

“This is not a com­plete panacea,” said Nichols, who ear­li­er tout­ed his an­i­mal stud­ies in­di­cat­ing DOI’s po­ten­tial in asth­ma.

Nichols dis­cov­ered that sero­tonin 5-HT2A re­cep­tor ag­o­nists, fol­low­ing a well-un­der­stood path­way psy­che­delics act on, can re­duce in­flam­ma­tion by ac­ci­dent in his LSU lab in 2008. Lat­er, he got a cold call from Shlo­mi Raz, a for­mer Wall Street ex­ec­u­tive who went on to get a mas­ter’s in psy­chol­o­gy at NYU.

Eleu­sis launched in 2013 with a mis­sion, Raz told End­points, of ex­plor­ing the broad pos­si­bil­i­ties for these ag­o­nists, with their work so far rang­ing from a tri­al on the ef­fects of ‘mi­cro-dos­ing’ LSD on time per­cep­tion to fil­ing a patent for the treat­ment of Alzheimer’s with LSD. Nichols has pub­lished sev­er­al pre­vi­ous stud­ies on psy­che­delics and an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ries, but this was no­table in its abil­i­ty to on­ramp in­to clin­i­cal tri­als.

Raz be­lieves what is com­mon­ly called psy­che­delics have a broad ar­ray of im­pacts be­yond their “psy­che­del­ic” func­tion. He says he has peer-re­viewed re­search com­ing soon that will help bol­ster that claim, and that the cen­tral ques­tion is how to un­lock those ef­fects with­out trig­ger­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact.

“If you think of it as an ice­berg,” Raz said, “maybe the tip of the ice­berg is the psy­chi­atrics and the part be­low the sur­face is not psy­chi­atric.”

The vas­cu­lar study showed phys­i­o­log­i­cal with­out any psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects (mice giv­en a psy­che­del­ic can some­times show be­hav­ior con­sis­tent with psy­chosis). The re­searchers fat­tened up mice on the “West­ern di­et” for four months and at in­ter­vals ad­min­is­tered DOI to one group and saline to a con­trol.

They found that vas­cu­lar in­flam­ma­tion was low­er in the DOI, as they an­tic­i­pat­ed. They hadn’t an­tic­i­pat­ed that cho­les­terol would be down and glu­cose tol­er­ance up, and they’re still not sure why.

Nichols, though, said the study was trans­lat­able to a clin­i­cal tri­al, and he was hope­ful there would be a drug with­in 10 to 20 years. Reg­u­la­tion, more than the sci­ence, was the bar­ri­er. Raz was mum about what’s next, both in terms of oth­er ap­pli­ca­tions and in busi­ness mod­el, but he left one clue:

“I can tell you it’s not a pill,” he said, “at first.”

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

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Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

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Joan Butterton, Merck Research Laboratories VP of global clinical development, infectious diseases (Merck)

Mer­ck­'s ex­per­i­men­tal HIV drug is­la­travir hits with a PhI­II com­bo win and FDA fil­ing plans

Back in March, Merck and Gilead agreed to a partnership to challenge GlaxoSmithKline on long-acting HIV meds — by combining one drug from both Merck and Gilead that had shown potential. While Gilead brought its capsid inhibitor lenacapavir, Merck brought islatravir into the deal — a small molecule that the pharma acquired in 2012 from a small Japanese firm.

While that partnership is ongoing, islatravir is coming out of 2 Phase III pivotal trials with back-to-back successes and plans to beat a quick advance to the FDA.

Gil Beyen, Erytech CEO

A transat­lantic biotech flags a painful PhI­II can­cer flop, wav­ing a white flag

More than 4 years after little Erytech inflated some rare passion for its stock with upbeat Phase IIb data for their lead drug in pancreatic cancer, they’ve let the air out of the party balloons.

The transatlantic biotech $ERYP put the word out Monday morning that its drug eryaspase flopped in a Phase III pivotal for second line metastatic pancreatic cancer, slamming its stock, which plunged more than 30%.

Preston Klassen, Metacrine CEO

An­oth­er NASH play­er re­treats from bat­tered field af­ter tox­i­col­o­gy study flags po­ten­tial de­lay

NASH, the notorious liver disease afflicting an increasing number of Americans, has always been the focus at Metacrine ever since serial entrepreneur Rich Heyman unveiled the first round of financing all the way back in 2015.

Not anymore.

The San Diego-based biotech is halting its NASH program and choosing instead to prioritize its effort in pushing the same FXR agonist, MET642, into a Phase II trial for inflammatory bowel disease.