An under-the-radar company has made enough of the active ingredient in magic mushrooms to send 20,000 people on a trip.
Compass Pathways, which is based in London and boasts an advisory board of esteemed scientists, is cranking out psilocybin to study the compound in people with depression.
That work comes amid a recent resurgence in the study of psychedelic drugs like mushrooms and LSD for mental illness. While most of the research is being led by universities and non-profit research institutions, Compass, a for-profit company founded in 2016, sees itself as helping to fill in the gaps.
The startup has attracted funding from big names like Peter Thiel. London-based entrepreneur Christian Angermayer, ex-hedge fund manager Mike Novogratz, and film producer Sam Englebardt.
Compass has also secured scientific oversight from respected researchers like Tom Insel, the former director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, and David Nutt, the former UK government drug czar, who serve on its board of advisors.
Thousands of doses of psilocybin
So far, Compass claims it has made two 250-gram batches of psilocybin, the equivalent of 20,000 doses of 25 mg of the drug. Although some of that will be tested for stability, the rest has been shaped into capsules. Those will soon be shipped to a handful of sites in Europe and North America, where Compass plans to use the psilocybin in clinical trials.
“We’re building on the significant work that has already been done in this area, by gathering evidence in a larger population to see whether psilocybin therapy could provide a breakthrough to help patients,” the company said in a statement.
The study will focus on treatment-resistant depression, which is one of the hardest-to-treat forms because people who have it don't respond to traditional therapy or medication. For the trial, which is set to begin within a month, Compass is enrolling 216 patients across more than a dozen research sites.
A resurgence of psychedelic research
Psilocybin has become a promising candidate for future treatments for anxiety and depression because it appears to disrupt the sorts of engrained brain activity patterns that are the hallmark of those diseases. One study looked at the compound's potential to help alleviate anxiety in cancer patients; others have looked at psilocybin's potential effect on depression, PTSD, and alcoholism.
Magic mushrooms aren't the only psychedelic drug that's getting renewed attention, though. There's been a steady trickle of scientific research on psychedelic drugs' potential therapeutic benefits for at least the last five years.
A study in 2017 indicated that ecstasy could help veterans cope with PTSD symptoms; and one in 2012 hinted that ketamine might curb major depression. That spate of research finally seems to be leading to the development of some promising potential treatments that could get government approval.
David Nutt, the former chief drug advisor for the British government and a current advisor to Compass Pathways, has been optimistic about the federal approval process. He told Business Insider last year that he expects to see psilocybin approved as a treatment for depression by 2027.
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