Psy­che­del­ic re­search gains mo­men­tum, as ear­ly tri­al sug­gests mi­cro-dos­ing LSD is safe

Psy­che­delics have been long ne­glect­ed as the sub­ject of vig­or­ous sci­en­tif­ic re­search af­ter gov­ern­ments brand­ed them as il­le­gal he­do­nis­tic com­pounds with no ther­a­peu­tic po­ten­tial. But in re­cent years, de­spite tricky reg­u­la­tions, a resur­gence of in­ter­est from re­searchers has cul­mi­nat­ed in an FDA ap­proved ke­t­a­mine-de­rived de­pres­sion treat­ment, clin­i­cal tri­als test­ing the po­ten­tial of psilo­cy­bin in ‘mag­ic mush­rooms,’ and the set­ting up of a psy­che­del­ic re­search cen­ter at Johns Hop­kins.

The col­or­less, odor­less and taste­less drug, ly­ser­gic acid di­ethy­lamide (LSD) — or acid, as it is fond­ly known — is part of this re­search re­nais­sance. On Wednes­day, a small pri­vate­ly held com­pa­ny — Eleu­sis Ben­e­fit Cor­po­ra­tion — un­veiled da­ta from an ear­ly study in healthy old­er vol­un­teers that test­ed its mi­cro-dos­ing ap­proach with LSD. And if it all goes ac­cord­ing to plan — nev­er a sure thing in biotech — they’ve got plans to tar­get Alzheimer’s with the ap­proach.

Neilo­u­far Fam­i­ly

In the study, 48 vol­un­teers (mean age = 62.9 years) re­ceived ei­ther 5 μg, 10 μg, or 20 μg of LSD, or place­bo  — ad­min­is­tered in wa­ter — every four days in six ses­sions. Over­all, the LSD was well tol­er­at­ed, and the fre­quen­cy of ad­verse events was no high­er than the place­bo, the com­pa­ny said, while claim­ing this is the first ever pub­li­ca­tion of clin­i­cal study da­ta on mi­cro-dosed LSD.

PK da­ta showed that the half-life of the LSD dos­es was short. “So at 12 hours post-dose, there was no drug in the blood at any of the dos­es,” Neilo­u­far Fam­i­ly, the tri­al’s lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor, told End­points News. “And there al­so wasn’t any drug in the blood at base­line on the sixth dose.”

The da­ta sup­port fur­ther clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of LSD, whose psy­choac­tiv­i­ty is un­der­stood to be me­di­at­ed pri­mar­i­ly through the 5-HT2A re­cep­tor, Eleu­sis said. The com­pa­ny even plans to de­vel­op the drug to treat and pre­vent Alzheimer’s dis­ease, a field lit­tered with fail­ure and a pauci­ty of promis­ing ther­a­peu­tics in the late-stage pipeline.

But the brim­ming en­thu­si­asm comes with a healthy dose of skep­ti­cism. Crit­ics wor­ry that the bur­geon­ing psy­che­del­ic 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.

“The one thing that we did ex­pect — but is still re­mark­able — is the high place­bo re­sponse,” Fam­i­ly said. “Peo­ple were re­port­ing per­cep­tions of psy­choac­tive ef­fects, when lat­er on we found out they were on place­bo…but in any case, any per­cep­tions of psy­choac­tive ef­fects were very mild and they sub­sided by the end of the day, both in the ac­tive dose groups and the place­bo groups.”

Eleu­sis has a plan to hedge its Alzheimer’s bet, and to deal with the pesky prob­lem of di­ver­sion.

Be­fore div­ing in­to a Phase II ef­fi­ca­cy study in Alzheimer’s, the com­pa­ny is plan­ning an ear­ly-stage study with a com­pound — a “not-so-psy­che­del­ic” psy­che­del­ic sero­tonin 5-HT2A ag­o­nist — in oph­thal­mol­o­gy. At the mo­ment, the eye drug is at the pre­clin­i­cal stage of de­vel­op­ment.

Shlo­mi Raz

The Phase I tri­al, which is ex­pect­ed to kick off in ear­ly 2021, will pro­vide a key mech­a­nis­tic in­sight in­to how psy­che­delics could pre­vent neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion as­so­ci­at­ed with in­flam­ma­tion, Eleu­sis chief Shlo­mi Raz told End­points.

“The eye is a win­dow to the soul but al­so to the brain,” he said.”The reti­na, in par­tic­u­lar, gives us a very neat way of as­sess­ing how psy­che­delics could po­ten­tial­ly man­age neu­ro­pro­tec­tion, neu­roin­flam­ma­tion and pro­vides us a cost-ef­fec­tive proof-of-con­cept be­fore go­ing in­to — by all mea­sures —what seems to be the most ex­pen­sive type of clin­i­cal tri­al around, which is in Alzheimer’s dis­ease.”

The hope is to de­vel­op an LSD com­pound for ther­a­peu­tic use that can be used in the out­pa­tient set­ting, but psy­choac­tiv­i­ty is a risk that must be mon­i­tored, he said. The com­pa­ny says it is de­vel­op­ing a non­in­va­sive safe­ty mon­i­tor­ing tech­nol­o­gy that will be used in its clin­i­cal tri­als, and if the com­pound is ap­proved, for pa­tient use.

“In all cas­es, there’s a cal­cu­lus of safe­ty, ver­sus un­met need, and clin­i­cal util­i­ty,” he said.  “I think in the case of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, should we demon­strate that LSD in fact, is ef­fec­tive in slow­ing or halt­ing the pro­gres­sion of the dis­ease, then I think that there’s a clear jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for tak­ing that risk.”

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Credit: AP Images

Covid-19 roundup: BAR­DA sup­ports Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed with big $628M con­tract to ser­vice Amer­i­ca's vac­cine pro­duc­tion needs

Another BARDA contract designed to service America’s Covid-19 vaccine needs has been deployed.

The White House-led initiative designed to bankroll development to bring a vaccine to the American public by this fall — Operation Warp Speed — has via BARDA handed a meaty contract to the maker of an FDA-licensed anthrax vaccine to open up its manufacturing apparatus to shore up production of Covid-19 vaccines.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ken Frazier, AP Images

Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

A low-pro­file biotech bests Re­gen­eron in high-pro­file patent suit

For nearly a decade now, the low-profile Cambridge biotech Kymab has been battling in US, UK, Japanese and Australian courts with the biotech behemoth Regeneron.

Regeneron has turned itself into a $70 billion company off of a platform of transgenically humanized mice they can use to make antibodies for anything from Ebola to colorectal cancer. The technology took decades and billions to build, 20 years from the company’s founding to the first approved drug. And the company guards and touts it zealously, breaking their production process down into various branded components — Velocimmune, Velocigene, Velocimouse and four other Velocis — and sometimes suing would-be copycats. In 2014, most notably, they sued two Pfizer-backed entities for patent infringement.