Psilocybin mushrooms (via The Denver Post)

In a key step for psy­che­del­ic re­search, mag­ic mush­room com­pound clears first clin­i­cal safe­ty hur­dle

Ex­as­per­at­ed with the of­ten-in­ef­fec­tive ex­ist­ing slate of an­ti­de­pres­sants, COM­PASS Path­ways set up shop in Lon­don 2016 — and made a bee­line for psilo­cy­bin, the psy­choac­tive in­gre­di­ent in mag­ic mush­rooms.

On Wednes­day, the start­up said its man-made ver­sion of the chem­i­cal — which is il­le­gal across ge­o­gra­phies in its nat­ur­al fun­gi form — had been well-tol­er­at­ed in an ear­ly-stage, place­bo-con­trolled tri­al in 89 healthy vol­un­teers.

Al­though pre­vi­ous re­search sup­ports the use of psilo­cy­bin in re­liev­ing symp­toms of de­pres­sion, small­er stud­ies are not al­ways place­bo-con­trolled. The tri­al test­ing the COM­PASS com­pound is the largest con­trolled study of psilo­cy­bin to date, said the study’s lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor, James Ruck­er of King’s Col­lege Lon­don’s In­sti­tute of Psy­chi­a­try, Psy­chol­o­gy & Neu­ro­science, in a state­ment.

Ex­ist­ing an­ti­de­pres­sants typ­i­cal­ly come in a pill form, and take weeks to kick in. J&J’s phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal con­coc­tion of ke­t­a­mine — the no­to­ri­ous par­ty drug that is al­so a horse and cat tran­quil­iz­er — was ap­proved ear­li­er this year, comes in the form of a nasal spray.

Tra­cy Che­ung

In the COM­PASS tri­al, vol­un­teers were ran­dom­ized to re­ceive a 10 mg or 25 mg dose of the syn­the­sized chem­i­cal (en­cap­su­lat­ed in a pill) or giv­en place­bo. Once dosed, vol­un­teers were giv­en in­di­vid­ual sup­port from ther­a­pists in groups of six in ses­sions that last­ed up to six hours.

The pa­tients who got the drug will most like­ly have ex­pe­ri­enced some psy­che­del­ic ef­fect, which is why the ther­a­pists were avail­able on hand, COM­PASS’ chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Tra­cy Che­ung not­ed in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

“Some­times that can be a lit­tle bit fright­en­ing or a lit­tle bit in­tense and the ther­a­pist is just there to hold your hand if that’s what’s re­quired and just pro­vide some sup­port or just to kind of say it’s all right, I’m here.”

No se­ri­ous ad­verse events emerged, and the most com­mon side ef­fects — as ex­pect­ed — were in the psy­che­del­ic realm, in­clud­ing changes in sen­so­ry per­cep­tion. The com­pound, dubbed COMP360, al­so had no im­pact on cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al func­tion­ing, the com­pa­ny said.

COM­PASS is al­so con­duct­ing a Phase II tri­al test­ing its psilo­cy­bin com­pound in 216 pa­tients with treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion across sites in North Amer­i­ca and Eu­rope. The com­pa­ny ex­pects to re­port da­ta from this study, which does not in­clude a place­bo arm, by ear­ly 2021.

Psilo­cy­bin is a sub­stance that in most re­gions is clas­si­fied as hav­ing no med­i­c­i­nal val­ue, falling in the same cat­e­go­ry as chem­i­cals such as LSD.

“At the mo­ment…we can use it but there’s an aw­ful lot of pa­per­work and we have to get li­cens­es for each of the coun­tries that we’re work­ing on do­ing the clin­i­cal tri­al,” Che­ung said, not­ing that the com­pa­ny has raised £28 mil­lion so far to in­ves­ti­gate the drug.

Psy­choac­tive in­gre­di­ents, whether de­rived from cannabis, LSD or mag­ic mush­rooms, have long cap­ti­vat­ed men­tal health re­searchers. Nav­i­gat­ing the com­plex le­gal hur­dles to ac­cess these com­pounds has thawed the pace of re­search but with mo­ti­vat­ed sci­en­tists and a grow­ing bur­den of poor­ly treat­ed men­tal health con­di­tions, the ecosys­tem of psy­che­del­ic re­search has ex­plod­ed. In Sep­tem­ber, John Hop­kin’s un­veiled it had scored $17 mil­lion to open its very own cen­ter of psy­che­del­ic re­search to ex­plore the im­pact of psy­che­del­ic com­pounds on cre­ativ­i­ty and well-be­ing.

But the brim­ming en­thu­si­asm comes with a healthy dose of skep­ti­cism. Crit­ics wor­ry that the bur­geon­ing re­search could in­cen­tivize un­bri­dled use of non-phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ver­sions of these drugs and that clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta could be cloud­ed by the fact that place­bo-con­trolled stud­ies are not nec­es­sar­i­ly dou­ble-blind­ed, be­cause it is far too easy to de­ter­mine which group of pa­tients have been giv­en a place­bo.

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His­toric drug pric­ing re­forms pass; Pfiz­er ac­quires GBT; The long search for non-opi­oid pain drugs; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

The Endpoints Weekly has officially crossed the 60,000 mark on subscribers — thanks to all of your support. As the editorial team grows, we’ve been able to do a lot more, with many of those on display this week. Be sure to check out Lei Lei Wu’s deep dive on pain R&D. If you missed it, you may also rewatch her companion panel here.

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Gold for adults, sil­ver for in­fants: Pfiz­er's Pre­vnar 2.0 head­ed to FDA months af­ter Mer­ck­'s green light

Pfizer was first to the finish line for the next-gen pneumococcal vaccine in adults, but Merck beat its rival with a jab for children in June.

Now, two months after Merck’s 15-valent Vaxneuvance won the FDA stamp of approval for kids, Pfizer is out with some late-stage data on its 20-valent shot for infants.

Known as Prevnar 20 for adults, Pfizer’s 20vPnC will head to the FDA by the end of this year for an approval request in infants, the Big Pharma said Friday morning. Discussions with the FDA will occur first and more late-stage pediatric trials are expected to read out soon, informing the regulatory pathway in other countries and regions.

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No­var­tis re­ports two pa­tient deaths af­ter treat­ment with Zol­gens­ma

Two children with spinal muscular atrophy have died after receiving Novartis’ Zolgensma, a gene therapy designed as a one-time treatment for the rare fatal disease.

The deaths, which resulted from acute liver failure, occurred in Russia and Kazakhstan, Novartis confirmed in a statement to Endpoints News. Having notified health authorities across all the markets where Zolgensma is available, it will update the drug label “to specify that fatal acute liver failure has been reported,” a spokesperson wrote.

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House pass­es his­toric drug pric­ing re­forms, lin­ing up decades-in-the-mak­ing win for Biden and De­moc­rats

The US House of Representatives today voted along party lines (all Dems voted for it), 220-207 to pass new, wide-ranging legislation that will allow Medicare drug price negotiations for the first time ever, and cap seniors’ drug expenses to $2,000 per year and seniors’ insulin costs at $35 per month.

Setting up a major victory for President Joe Biden, representatives returned from their summer recess to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, even as many noted the bill would only modestly reduce inflation.

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Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images)

Sen­ate Fi­nance chair con­tin­ues his in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to phar­ma tax­es with re­quests for Am­gen

Amgen is the latest pharma company to appear on the radar of Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is investigating the way pharma companies are using subsidiaries in low- or zero-tax countries to lower their tax bills.

Like its peers Merck, AbbVie and Bristol Myers Squibb, Wyden notes how Amgen uses its Puerto Rico operations to consistently pay tax rates that are substantially lower than the U.S. corporate tax rate of 21%, with an effective tax rate of 10.7% in 2020 and 12.1% in 2021.

FDA ap­proves sec­ond in­di­ca­tion for As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi's En­her­tu in less than a week

AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s antibody-drug conjugate Enhertu scored its second approval in less than a week, this time for a subset of lung cancer patients.

Enhertu received accelerated approval on Thursday to treat adults with unresectable or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors have activating HER2 (ERBB2) mutations, and who have already received a prior systemic therapy.

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J&J to re­move talc prod­ucts from shelves world­wide, re­plac­ing with corn­starch-based port­fo­lio

After controversially spinning out its talc liabilities and filing for bankruptcy in an attempt to settle 38,000 lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson is now changing up the formula for its baby powder products.

J&J is beginning the transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio, the pharma giant announced on Thursday — just months after a federal judge ruled in favor of its “Texas two-step” bankruptcy to settle allegations that its talc products contained asbestos and caused cancer. An appeals court has since agreed to revisit that case.

CSL is gathering its four business units under a unified brand identity strategy (Credit: CSL company site)

CSL brings Se­qirus, Vi­for un­der par­ent um­brel­la brand in iden­ti­ty re­vamp

CSL is gathering its brands under the family name umbrella, renaming its vaccine and newly acquired nephrology specialty businesses with the parent initials.

CSL Seqirus and CSL Vifor join CSL Plasma and CSL Behring as the four now uniformly branded business units of the global biopharma. The Seqirus vaccine division was formed in 2015 with the combination of bioCSL and its purchase of Novartis’ flu vaccine business. CSL picked up Vifor Pharma late last year in an $11.7 billion deal for the nephrology, iron deficiency and cardio-renal drug developer.

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