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.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.