The Harvard scientist acting as ATAI's treasure trove launches a new psychedelics firm focused on drug 'analogues'
A former Harvard and NIH scientist is returning to the psychedelics field with a new biotech after selling his last effort to the buzzy ATAI Life Sciences.
Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals completed its $27 million Series A on Thursday, the company announced, with plans to use the cash to prep four programs for INDs and continue expanding its leadership team. The biotech is led by CEO Jonathan Sporn, and it’s not his first rodeo in psychedelics.
Sporn previously founded Perception Neuroscience, focusing on R-ketamine for treatment-resistant depression, and sold it to ATAI in early 2019. Perception’s candidate is in early human tests and is among the most advanced in ATAI’s portfolio.
Two other members of his leadership team— his CSO and co-founder — also sold a company centered around opioid use disorder to ATAI last year in Kures. The collective experiences among the group have certainly helped Gilgamesh get off the ground, Sporn told Endpoints News, but they wanted to do things a little bit differently this time around.
Sporn began putting a team together of what he called “unusual” people for the space, mainly medicinal chemists including the former Kures leaders. These folks, Dalibor Sames and Andrew Kruegel, had extensive experience in creating and engineering analogues to some of the more common psychedelic drugs out there like ibogaine.
It’s the creation of these analogues where Gilgamesh will also spend its time and money, Sporn said, rather than trying to use things like synthetic psilocybin — the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms that Compass Pathways focuses on — or something a bit more offbeat, like the drug colloquially known as ‘toad venom.’
“What we see with these other companies in the field, they seem to be focusing more on things that already exist and where it’s a more complex process to try to protect these things,” Sporn told Endpoints. “We’re more focused on creating the right group of people … we’re pulling together the right people, it’s all very IP-centric and very medicinal chemistry-centric.”
Gilgamesh has also partnered with NJ-based Psychogenics to use their AI platform, which he says was the first of its kind in psychiatry. Researchers administer experimental drugs to mice and are observed by cameras that catalogue their behavioral patterns, allowing Gilgamesh to measure which doses are most effective and how long their effects last after leaving the body.
The company expects to enter IND-enabling studies for two of its programs over the next few months, the first of which is an oral ketamine analogue likely to be studied for treatment-resistant depression and opiate use disorder. This candidate’s appeal, Sporn says, is the oral formulation itself: Gilgamesh’s pill allows for fewer dissociative effects and is much safer for home use or during psychotherapy.
Sporn also highlighted an analogue of DMT Gilgamesh is working on, which is intended to shorten the therapeutic effect from six hours to about one or two hours. That would ease the burden on the healthcare system, as psychiatrists won’t have to spend all that time observing patients after taking the drug. Gilgamesh’s other two programs involve the serotonin receptor 5-HT2A.
With his experience at Perception and now at Gilgamesh, Sporn says he’s been grateful to have a front row seat at this burgeoning field. And he’s already seen interest from mid-size pharma companies interested in acquiring Gilgamesh. But for now, the focus remains on building out the team and ensuring its programs are full steam ahead.
“They’re starting to dip their toe into the water to look at acquisitions in this space, or partnerships in this space,” Sporn said. “It’s clear they’re interested, and I think you’ll start to see more of that, more of those people beginning to create partnerships around the space, and that will help, I think, a good deal.”