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Home » Neurology » Psychedelic drugs being adapted for mental health care

Doug Drysdale

CEO, Cybin Inc

New treatments for patients with depression or addiction are being developed from psychedelic drugs.

Second-generation psychedelic drugs are being developed to create new therapies for people suffering from depression or addiction. While still undergoing trials, specialists believe these medications can be an alternative to long-standing anti-depressives.

Doug Drysdale, who heads one of the companies that has taken a lead in the field, says highlighting mental health issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities for openness in discussing depression and paved the way for new treatments.

Opportunity for psychedelics

Studies suggest that one in three COVID-19 survivors may suffer depression or anxiety, while around half of 18–24-year-olds have experienced depression.

“The pandemic has raised an awareness of mental health and that, combined with a willingness to explore different treatments such as plant medicines, has provided the window of opportunity for psychedelics,” says Drysdale, CEO of Cybin which is, which is developing psychedelic therapeutics for psychiatric disorders.

“These are the four main molecules and have been around for several decades, so we know a lot about their chemistry, safety profiles and the way they metabolise,” says Drysdale.

First-in-man trials

Major institutions have been studying the effects of these molecules in comparison with traditional treatments.

Already, a study in America among 24 patients with a depressive disorder who were given two doses of a psychedelics saw 71% of participants experience a clinically significant reduction in depressive symptoms, and 54% in complete remission after four weeks.

Studies suggest that one in three COVID-19 survivors may suffer depression or anxiety, while around half of 18–24-year-olds have experienced depression.

That, he says, is “completely different” to current treatments with “moderately effective drugs”.

Drugs being developed by Cybin will target major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder, though there is also potential for tobacco or opioid misuse.

Novel drug delivery technologies

Research is taking place in Canada and the UK, where Cybin will conduct first-in-man trials later this year for alcohol use disorder.

Further research is needed on the time it takes the drug to act in patients. “We are creating novel versions of these molecules, which still have the underlying characteristics and receptor binding abilities but with a quicker onset all while optimising duration of action of these molecules and underlying assisted therapies thus creating more scalable and commercially viable drug candidates,” explains Drysdale.

Novel drug delivery technologies to get them into the body faster include using sublingual film technology – which dissolves in the cheek or under the tongue – disintegrating tablets and inhalation. The medication forms new networks in the brain, making it more receptive to creating new memories which helps with dealing trauma, addiction and PTSD.

Public re-education

As psychedelic drugs also have illegal recreational connotations, Drysdale remains aware that public re-education is an important step. Although in the United States the FDA has granted breakthrough therapy for certain psychedelics, it is placing the onus on companies to show that the drugs are safe and efficacious via large randomised controlled studies before any clinical use.

In Europe there are similar regulatory hurdles to cross but globally there is a move towards decriminalising these drugs.

Investment support

Cybin is a public company and has attracted investment, with the majority from significant blue chip biotech investors in the US, and the aim to have psilocybin-based therapies available by 2025.

He says: “We are literally trying to revolutionise how we treat mental illness; it is not going to be a short journey, but it is rare to see such massive opportunity in molecules we know a lot about.

“To a large extent we know these treatments work. Our job is to optimise the way they work and bring them to market in a scalable way that is safe and effective for patients.”


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