The 'mind-blow­ing' R&D re­nais­sance in psy­che­del­ic meds finds a home at Johns Hop­kins

The “mind-blow­ing” field of psy­che­del­ic re­search is get­ting its first ma­jor US home, one that could help le­git­imize a field that has slow­ly crept out of the shad­ows over the last two decades.

Johns Hop­kins Med­i­cine an­nounced Wednes­day they are open­ing what they be­lieve to be the first cen­ter for psy­che­del­ic re­search in the coun­try and the largest in the world.

The Cen­ter for Psy­che­del­ic and Con­scious­ness Re­search at Johns Hop­kins Med­i­cine will in­clude a team of 11 fac­ul­ty sci­en­tists and post-docs in­ves­ti­gat­ing the po­ten­tial use of LSD and psilo­cy­bin (the chem­i­cal found in mag­ic mush­rooms) — among oth­er psy­che­delics — to im­pact hu­man cre­ativ­i­ty and well-be­ing and to treat a host of dis­or­ders, in­clud­ing opi­oid ad­dic­tion, Alzheimer’s dis­ease and PTSD.

Once stud­ied ex­ten­sive­ly by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, psy­che­delics vir­tu­al­ly dis­ap­peared from re­search lab­o­ra­to­ries af­ter most were sched­uled as Class I drugs by the Nixon Ad­min­is­tra­tion in 1970. But since 2000, when Johns Hop­kins ob­tained ap­proval to ad­min­is­ter psy­che­delics to hu­man sub­jects who had nev­er tak­en one be­fore, sci­en­tists at a hand­ful of in­sti­tu­tions have steadi­ly brought the cat­e­go­ry of drugs in­to the sci­en­tif­ic fore­ground.

These re­searchers have de­scribed some of their re­sults as “mind-blow­ing” in their abil­i­ty to help pa­tients, as health writer Michael Pol­lan re­port­ed in the New York­er in 2015. Pol­lan has been one of the most promi­nent pro­mot­ers of psy­che­delics, writ­ing in pop­u­lar pub­li­ca­tions and his new book How to Change Your Mind about the po­ten­tial for this class of drugs to treat anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion with hereto­fore un­heard-of suc­cess.

In March, the FDA ap­proved a psy­che­del­ic drug for the first time: Es­ke­t­a­mine for treat­ing de­pres­sion. MD­MA (com­mon­ly called ec­sta­sy) re­ceived break­through ther­a­py sta­tus in 2017 and Phase III tri­als to use it as PTSD treat­ment have shown promise. Tri­als com­plet­ed at NYU and Hop­kins – which prompt­ed the “mind-blow­ing” de­scrip­tion – high­light­ed the po­ten­tial for the drugs to de­crease “ex­is­ten­tial dis­tress” in can­cer pa­tients.

Nev­er­the­less, sig­nif­i­cant le­gal hur­dles ex­ist to ob­tain­ing gov­ern­ment funds for psy­che­del­ic re­search and the cen­ter will be en­tire­ly pri­vate­ly fund­ed. The list of donors, though, re­flects the rep­u­ta­tion and cache the drugs have amassed among a younger gen­er­a­tion of in­flu­encers and Sil­i­con Val­ley types, who have dri­ven some of the de­vel­op­ment to date. They in­clude au­thor, tech in­vestor, and pod­cast host Tim Fer­riss, Word­Press co-founder Matt Mul­len­weg and TOMS founder Blake My­coskie.

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

Re­gen­eron's Evkeeza shows promise in curb­ing high triglyc­erides, but will ge­net­ic dis­par­i­ties lim­it use?

When Regeneron scored an early approval for lipid lowering antibody Evkeeza back in February, the drugmaker cracked open a new pathway to lower abnormally high cholesterol levels. Now, Regeneron is chasing high triglycerides as well with some promising mid-stage data — but will genetic restrictions limit the drug’s use?

Regeneron’s Evkeeza (evinacumab) cut median triglyceride levels by more than 800 mg/dL (57%) in patients with a rare disorder causing abnormally high triglyceride levels compared with an overall increase of 50 mg/dL (1.8%) in participants on placebo, according to Phase II data presented Sunday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

$DNA is once again on NYSE; FDA clears Soliris chal­lenger for the mar­ket; Flag­ship’s think­ing big again with eR­NA; and more

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I still remember the uncertainty in the air last year when nobody was sure whether ASCO would cancel their in-person meeting. But it’s now back again for the second virtual conference, and Endpoints News is here for it. Check out our 2-day event reviewing the landscape of cancer R&D and send news our way.

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As­traZeneca's Farx­i­ga missed big on Covid-19 study, but it's tak­ing SGLT2 safe­ty da­ta as a sil­ver lin­ing

AstraZeneca hasn’t seen many setbacks in recent months for SGLT2 inhibitor Farxiga, which broke ground in heart failure and kidney disease regardless of diabetes diagnosis. But the British drugmaker had to admit defeat in taking Farxiga into Covid-19, but follow-up results add a bit of a silver lining to that trial’s safety data.

Of hospitalized Covid-19 patients dosed with AstraZeneca’s Farxiga, 11.2% experienced an organ failure or died after 30 days of therapy compared with 13.8% of those given placebo, according to follow-up data from the DARE-19 study revealed Sunday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Pfiz­er, Bris­tol My­er­s' Eliquis flops in post-heart surgery pa­tients, spurring an 'un­ex­plained sig­nal' in cer­tain deaths

Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb’s non-warfarin blood thinner Eliquis has raced out to become the most prescribed drug of its class on the market — even overtaking warfarin’s long-time lead. But in tricky-to-treat patients after a valve replacement, an investigator-sponsored study couldn’t turn up benefit and raised a troubling safety signal.

Eliquis failed to show benefit over standard of care in preventing serious clinical outcomes after a transaortic valve replacement (TAVR) and was linked to an “unexplained signal” in a subset of populations with a higher rate of non-CV deaths who did not need blood thinners apart from the surgery, according to data presented Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Vas Narasimhan (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis whiffs on En­tresto study af­ter heart at­tacks — but that does­n't mean it's go­ing down qui­et­ly

If Novartis learned one thing from its interaction with the FDA over its latest heart failure approval for Entresto, it was that missing a primary endpoint may not be the nail in the coffin. Now, Entresto has missed again on a late-stage study in high-risk heart patients, and it’s already sowing the seeds for a path forward regardless.

Novartis’ Entresto couldn’t best standard-of-care ramipril in staving off a composite of deaths and heart failure events in patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction and/or pulmonary congestion who have had a prior heart attack, according to topline data from the Phase III PARADISE-MI study revealed Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Gene ther­a­py from Bio­gen's $800M buy­out flops in mid-stage study, deal­ing blow to new am­bi­tions

The #2 candidate from Biogen’s $800 million ocular gene therapy buyout has failed in a mid-stage trial, dealing an early blow to the big biotech’s plans to revitalize its pipeline with new technologies.

Biogen announced that the candidate, an experimental treatment for a rare and progressive form of blindness called X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP), failed to sufficiently improve vision in patients’ treated eye — patients only received an injection in one eye — after a year, on a standard scale, compared to their untreated eye. The company said they saw “positive trends” on several secondary endpoints, including visual acuity, but declined to say whether the trial actually hit any of those endpoints.

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Michael Dell (Richard Drew, AP Images)

'Dude, you're get­ting a Del­l' — as a new deep-pock­et biotech in­vestor

What happens when you marry longtime insiders in the global biotech VC game with the family fund of tech billionaire Michael Dell, a synthetic biology legend out of MIT and Harvard and the former director of the NCI?

Today, the answer is a newly financed, $200 million biotech SPAC now cruising the industry for a top player interested in finding a short cut to Nasdaq.

Orion Biotech Opportunities priced their blank check company today, raising $200 million with Dell’s multibillion-dollar MSD group’s commitment on investing another $20 million in a forward-purchase agreement.

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Bris­tol My­ers backs up its case for heart drug mava­camten as FDA weighs app in car­diomy­opa­thy

When Bristol Myers Squibb signed off on its $13 billion acquisition of MyoKardia back in October, it was making a big bet that lead drug mavacamten could prove a game changer in cardiac myopathy. Now, with the drug up for FDA review, Bristol Myers is backing up its case with new quality of life data.

Patients dosed with myosin inhibitor mavacamten posted a clinically significant increase in scores on the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire, a catch-all summary of symptoms and quality of life markers, over placebo at 30 weeks, according to data from the Phase III EXPLORER-HCM study presented Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.