Toad venom to treat depression? RA Capital wagers $125M on latest psychedelic biotech
Can an inhaled version of the psychedelic known as ‘toad venom’ be used to treat tough-to-crack depression? For GH Research, that’s the $125 million question.
The Dublin-based biotech announced Monday it closed a Series B round to help advance its lead program, an inhalant called GH001, for psychiatric and neurological disorders. GH is beginning with treatment-resistant depression and has two as-yet-undisclosed indications on tap.
Monday’s round was co-led RA Capital and RTW Investments, along with existing investor BVF Partners. GH declined to comment beyond its press release.
The drug in question is a scientific mouthful — 5-Methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine is the official name — but is more commonly referred to as 5-MeO-DMT or slangily as toad venom, due to its presence in a certain toad species native to the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico. It can also be derived from plants or made synthetically, with the plant version used as an entheogen in some parts of Central and South America.
Per a 2018 VICE News report, the psychedelic saw a rapid rise in popularity in the mid-2010s among those trying to achieve the ‘ego death’ phenomenon, in which researchers believe the part of the brain responsible for one’s sense of self shuts down temporarily. The drug saw heavy interest from users on Reddit and YouTube, VICE reported, who engaged in an “arms race” to boast about their experiences getting high.
Psychedelics-focused biotechs have seen a surge in investor interest in recent years, most notably surrounding the Peter Thiel-backed ATAI Life Sciences. That company uses a unique business model for developing therapeutics covering a range of mental health disorders by bringing portfolio companies under one umbrella.
Though ATAI has more than 13 programs developing drugs, GH is much more narrowly focused on its 5-MeO-DMT work. So far, GH001 has completed a Phase I study in healthy volunteers, the company said. Results showed GH001 was well-tolerated, and it’s now in a Phase I/II trial in patients with treatment-resistant depression.
The biotech is also working on an injectable formulation of 5-MeO-DMT, which they are calling GH002 and for which they’re also keeping potential indications close to the vest.
Treatment-resistant depression occurs in patients who see little to no success with antidepressants or psychotherapy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and there’s generally not a single approach that works for every patient.
In addition to RA Capital and RTW Investments, other new investors included Acuta Capital Partners, Boxer Capital, Cormorant Asset Management, Deerfield Management Company, Logos Capital, Surveyor Capital, Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners and Verition Fund Management.