Episode 79: Jonathan Sporn – How Psychedelic Drugs Help Erase The Mental Burden In Society | Beginner’s Mind

Check out the Beginner’s Mind episode page  

Key Takeaways

  • A challenge to mental health drug development is that people with the same mental health disorder do not necessarily exhibit the same biological signs and symptoms
  • Prior to exploration and innovation with psychedelics, mental health treatment has not made significant advancements since the invention of SSRIs in the 1980s
  • Big pharma is not necessarily interested in psychedelics because they don’t know how to fit into the current business model – they can’t make money as is since there’s no inherent innovation or IP
  • Gilgamesh Pharmaceutical is working to create new molecules and psychedelic-like drugs based on the properties of psychedelics but with greater control over dose, experience, time, etc.
  • If successful, Gilgamesh’s approach could open the door to increased access to psychedelic-like therapies without the need for clinical supervision
  • Machine learning may provide an avenue to match patients with the correct drug

Introduction

Dr. Jonathan Sporn (@spornj) is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at Columbia University. He has extensive clinical and research experience with NIH, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer. He is now CEO of Gilgamesh Pharmaceutical, a company developing novel psychedelic-related or inspired medicines to treat mental illness.

Christian Soschner and Jonathan Sporn discuss the unmet medical need in mental health and the promising novel psychedelic drug development sector.

Host: Christian Soschner (@Sochner)

Mental Health Today

  • The world today has significant mental health challenges – there have been drastic increases in anxiety, depression, suicide, and most other mental health problems
  • Gun violence: in the U.S. there’s a mixture of mental health problems and easily accessible dangerous weapons which have reached a critical level
  • The pandemic brought to the surface loneliness, grief, and a loss of connectivity to others and the social fabric
  • We don’t really know why people experience cyclic mood disorders where people fluctuate from states of mania to depression

Time For Change In Mental Health Treatment

  • When mental health was first treated, the drugs were lethal in high doses so it was tough to dial in properly – too little and the patient did not improve, too much and the patient could overdose
  • The creation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in the 1980s changed psychiatry and allowed for the treatment of a broad population of patients with mental health disorders
  • Psychiatry is ripe for disruption: there has been little to move the needle in mental health since the invention of SSRIs
  • The multitude of side effects (e.g., reduced libido, impaired appetite, etc.) and blunting of ability to express emotion is a significant downside to SSRIs (though there is a strong benefit for many)
  • Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS): exploring therapeutic uses of MDMA; current studies are yielding remarkable improvements in PTSD treatment in conjunction with behavioral therapy
  • Possible mechanism: psychedelics and drugs like MDMA enhance the capacity for neuroplasticity and allow full expression and access to emotions
  • It’s suspected that psychedelic drugs affect glutamatergic balance
  • We need to be realistic about psychedelics – there’s a lot of hype but there’s also a long way to go and not everyone will respond equally

Limitations Of NIH Research

  • Slow pace of clinical research – difficult to recruit study participants, manage government bureaucracy
  • NIH also doesn’t create drugs so you’re dependent on pharmaceutical companies to partner
  • A positive: the environment is very resource-rich
  • Note: pharmaceuticals like Pfizer also have tons of bureaucracy and related delays to navigate
  • Most biotech companies will ultimately fail but they do have faster decision-making and a rapid pace of early-stage drug creation and research

Founding Of Perception Neuroscience

  • After leaving Johnson & Johnson, Sporn created Perception Neuroscience – a biotech company
  • Notable investor: Christian Angermeyer
  • Original research interest: R-ketamine has weaker binding to NMDA receptor so tried another isomer (S-ketamine) which worked better
  • S-ketamine is now in phase II clinical research with use for treatment-resistant depression

Gilgamesh Pharmaceutical

  • Historically, psychedelic companies are not built around innovation or the ability to do complex science but rather focus on pushing legislation and studying naturally existing psychedelics
  • Sporn is CEO of Gilgamesh Pharmaceutical in New York City, a company developing novel psychedelic-related or inspired medicines to treat mental illness
  • Focus on drug development & creating new molecules: Gilgamesh develops novel drugs with IP on the chemical matter of psychedelics
  • Big pharma is not necessarily interested in MDMA, psilocybin, or other psychedelics because they can’t make money as is since there’s not inherently innovation or IP
  • The goal is to create molecules with psychedelic properties but more controlled in the length of experience, therapeutic characteristics, etc.
  • Lab-created molecules might open the door to allow patients to take home these more controlled psychedelic-like medications without clinical supervision
  • It would still be ideal to combine these drugs with psychotherapy
  • Creation of ibogaine-like molecule: ibogaine in its natural state can cause cardiac arrhythmia but has properties that have been observed to stop heroin craving – very worthwhile
  • Gilgamesh is also working to create a better scientific process for creating and testing new drugs with machine learning instead of just observing rodent behaviors
    • If successful, there will be a greater ability to identify which drugs a person should be on

Patents, Investments, Funding & VCs

  • A strength of Gilgamesh is navigating IP
  • Gilgamesh secured $34 million in Series A funding in 2021 and additional undisclosed capital in 2022, ensuring that it is currently well-funded enough to run lead programs in clinical trials and weather the storm
  • Biotech funding has dried up to a large degree, gone are the days of throwing money at company with a good sounding idea
  • Market predictions: likely entering a period of more fear and discounts in the next 1-2 years (but biotech was in correction earlier than the rest of the market)
  • Gilgamesh is currently open for investment – email [email protected]
Beginner's Mind : , , , ,
Notes By Maryann

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks