UK biopharma Compass Pathways has raised £64m (around $80m) from investors – including Paypal founder Peter Thiel – for its novel antidepressant based on magic mushrooms.
The second-round funding will be used to expand the clinical programme for Compass’ synthetic COMP 360 therapy based on psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, for treatment-resistant depression (TRD), according to the London-based startup.
COMP360 is already in a phase 2b trial in TRD patients at 20 clinical sites in Europe and North America which started at the beginning of 2019 and was due to generate results this year, although it has been held up by coronavirus pandemic.
Compass won breakthrough status for its drug from the FDA in December 2018, although it is not the only group to look at using psilocybin for its therapeutic potential.
Last December, US research group the Usona Institute also picked up an FDA breakthrough designation for psilocybin for major depressive disorder, launching a phase 2 trial.
All told, there are 33 active or pending studies mentioning the psychoactive ingredient on the clinicaltrials.gov database, covering depression as well as other indications like eating disorder anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), migraine/cluster headache, and alcohol or drug abuse.
Other psychoactive compounds used as recreational drugs are also being tested for their therapeutic potential. Last year, Johnson & Johnson got US and EU approval for Spravato, a nasal spray formulation of a drug derived from ketamine.
Meanwhile, New York biotech Eleusis completed a phase 1 trial of LSD in healthy older volunteers, setting up a phase 2 trial in Alzheimer’s disease.
The latest cash injection – which is backed in part by a unit of Otsuka Pharma and led by existing investor ATAI Life Sciences – will be used to find new uses for psilocybin therapy, bring forward preclinical candidate, and establish new research partnerships, said Compass in a statement.
Some will also go towards the development of digital technologies that could be used alongside COMP360, it added. Compass’ approach is to combine drug treatment with psychological support delivered by trained therapists.
The therapy includes preparation sessions with the therapist to develop a trusting relationship, followed by a psilocybin session in which the patient is dosed with the drug while lying down, wearing an eye mask, and listening to a music playlist.
The approach is designed to help them focus internally while the drug exerts its effects, which can typically take six to eight hours. In a third phase patients are asked to discuss their experiences with the therapist and try to identify ways to tackle unhelpful emotional and behavioural patterns.
Last December, Compass reported results from a healthy volunteer study in 89 subjects run by King’s College London which showed that the treatment was well-tolerated, with no negative effects on cognitive and emotional functioning.