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.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.