Mind Medicine Inc., a New York-based psychedelic drug development company, that counts Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary and Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie as investors, has acquired the exclusive rights to eight clinical trials that are exploring the medicinal properties of the powerful hallucinogen lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). One of the studies is an ongoing, placebo-controlled Phase 2 trial of LSD for the treatment of anxiety disorder.
The deal gives Mind Medicine a 10-year exclusive collaboration with the laboratory of professor Dr. Matthias Liechti, one of the world’s leaders in psychedelics pharmacology and clinical research at University Hospital Basel in Switzerland. Mind Medicine will also get exclusive worldwide rights to data, compounds, and patent rights associated with the research on LSD and other psychedelic compounds.
Mind Medicine cofounder JR Rahn, a 32-year-old former Uber employee, says his company’s mission is simple:“We are going to develop these drugs as FDA-approved medicines. We are going to focus on the data and clinical trials and develop IP that will help us create federally-legal medicines” he says. “We need to get the average person to realize that these are not evil drugs—they can be used as medicines and be successful at treating unmet medical needs.”
Rahn says that Dr. Liechti will also help the company prepare a micro-dosing study of LSD as a potential treatment for adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “Micro-dosing” is a term that refers to the practice of taking small, non-hallucinogenic doses of psychedelic drugs. It’s an outright trend in Silicon Valley as people look for ways to be more creative, deal with stress and self-treat anxiety and other maladies.
“Over the past decade we have amassed the largest collection of clinical trials around LSD; we have been studying the pharmacology and potential medical uses of LSD and other psychedelics for many years in the laboratory, in patients, and in healthy volunteers,” Dr. Liechti said in a statement.
If the thought of taking acid to treat anxiety gives you, well, anxiety, researchers have found that the drug can be harnessed to reduce anxiety disorder symptoms in humans. LSD was discovered in 1943 by Sandoz chemist Albert Hofmann. A few years later and through 1966, Sandoz provided LSD to psychiatrists and researchers to study its effects and potential as a treatment for anxiety associated with terminal cancer, alcoholism, opioid use disorder and depression in conjunction with therapy. In 1968, after LSD became synonymous with the counterculture revolution, it was banned by the U.S. government, Sandoz stopped making the substance and it entered the black market.
Mind Medicine is one of many companies trying to repurpose hallucinogenic molecules as the next blockbuster drug. Companies like Compass Pathways, which is backed by billionaire Peter Thiel, is running an FDA-approved clinical trial on psilocybin (the hallucinogenic chemical in “magic mushrooms”) to treat depression. ATAI Life Sciences, based in Germany and backed by former billionaire Michael Novogratz, invests in and acquires companies like DemeRX, which is studying the hallucinogenic root iboga and how it could help treat addiction.
Mind Medicine is also exploring an ibogaine derivative to treat opioid addiction. Dr. Stanley Glick, who invented 18-MC, a form of ibogaine without its intense hallucinatory effects, joined Mind Medicine last year and is preparing the company’s Phase 2 study targeting opioid withdrawal and opioid use disorder. Ibogaine has a long history in West Africa, where people have been using it for rites passages for hundreds of years.
During the past year, Mind Medicine raised over $30 million from investors, including ABC’s “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary and Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, before going public on Canada’s NEO stock exchange through a reverse takeover in early March. It also trades over the counter in the U.S.
Its market cap might only be $155 million and its stock is trading around 50 cents, but Rahn says the potential reward for a company like his could be capturing a multi-billion dollar market. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, which is about 18% of the population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
O’Leary says he was skeptical when he was first approached to invest. He says he’s never done recreational drugs and opposes anything illegal, but his mind was changed after realizing the company will focus on the FDA drug development pathway. (O’Leary says he invested only after Rahn shook his hand and promised that the company would not pursue the recreational market.)
“Once in a while, you hear an idea that is a game-changer. There haven’t been new medicines for depression, alcoholism, ADHD, or any of that for 35 to 40 years, says O’Leary. “This is a medicinal pursuit with a huge, positive outcome for the human race if it works.”
Rahn knows his company has an uphill battle that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to convince the FDA to approve LSD and other psychedelic drugs. He also realizes that he has a cultural battle to fight as well in convincing people that LSD, which has long been used as a recreational drug, is a serious pharmaceutical medication.
Mind Medicine is not a “Timothy Leary”-esque enterprise, he says, referencing the former Harvard psychologist who studied psychedelic drugs, eventually got fired and became a leader of the counterculture movement. “This isn’t the 1960s all over again. I want nothing to do with those kinds of folks who want to decriminalize psychedelics,” he says. “You don’t have to be a revolutionary [to bring these drugs to market]. You just need to show up to work every day, do the rigorous science, take a pragmatic approach and we’ll get there.”