The executive behind ChatGPT pushes for a new revolution: psychedelics

The executive behind ChatGPT pushes for a new revolution: psychedelics

The man who brings artificial intelligence to the masses through the viral chatbot ChatGPT wants to revolutionize mental health care and addiction treatment with psychedelic drugs.

Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, is president of a start-up that aims to harness the promise psychedelic drugs have shown in clinical trials and make them widely available to people suffering from mental disorders and drug use. The company, Journey Colab, is partnering with an upscale rehab clinic, All Points North, to guide drugs like MDMA and psilocybin through late-stage trials and design a model for delivering them to patients.

Jeeshan Chowdhury, CEO of Journeys, says such drugs are powerful tools, comparing them to performing complex surgeries. The surgery is performed in a safe environment in specialized facilities by highly experienced teams, he said. Our goal is to demonstrate that rehabilitation centers … are the safest place for these interventions.

Altman’s foray into psychedelics showcases the buzz drugs have ignited in Silicon Valley, with venture capitalists betting millions of dollars that such therapies will transform. treatment of mental disorders and drug addiction. Since 2019, when the Food and Drug Administration approved a variation of ketamine to treat depression, companies developing psychedelic drugs or related services have raised more than $560 million in venture capital, according to data provider PitchBook. .

Spravato, a ketamine-derived nasal spray, remains the only psychedelic drug approved for depression, but several candidates have begun or completed late-stage clinical trials. MDMA and psilocybin have been granted breakthrough status from the FDA, a designation that accelerates the development of drugs that show substantial improvements over available therapies.

There has been a sober reevaluation of what our current treatments are capable of, said Brian Barnett, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic. Citing the lack of innovation in psychiatry and the unpleasant side effects of existing drugs, he said, this is what led to another look at psychedelics.

Classic psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, mescaline and LSD can retune brain activity by activating receptors for serotonin, a chemical that plays a role in mood regulation, leaving the brain more open to different perspectives. show search. Although their potential as medicine was recognized decades ago, the drugs have also been abused recreationally and fell out of favor in the 1970s when the Controlled Substances Act criminalized them.

The Drug Enforcement Administration places MDMA and psilocybin, known by their street names Ecstasy and magic mushrooms, in the strictest category of drugs it regulates as they have no currently accepted medical use. they’re in a less restrictive class of drugs, according to the researchers.

As studies have validated the promise of psychedelics, the regulatory landscape has begun to change as well. Oregon legalized psilocybin in 2020 and is in the process of licensing facilities that provide such care, while Colorado last year passed a ballot measure that will allow adults to use psilocybin in licensed facilities starting in 2024. The Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) last month proposed legislation that would remove regulatory barriers for some psychedelics used in research.

The new momentum has inspired a proliferation of companies betting on a psychedelic, but risk-ridden future to raise enough funds and convince regulators to greenlight substances that are still largely illegal to use.

Among the biggest players is London-based Compass Pathways PLC, which has taken the conventional biotech strategy of modifying naturally occurring psilocybin into a patentable drug and putting it through clinical trials. The company, founded in 2020, boasted a market value of $2 billion in November 2021, but its shares have plunged 80% since then.

Small Pharma, a small Canadian start-up that is modifying the psychedelic DMT to treat depression, recently revealed promising results from a study that didn’t wow investors. These results are extremely promising but had no effect on the share price, which is zero, said Jan Hardorp, founding partner of the venture capital firm re.Mind Capital which has invested in the company.

The leader bringing psychedelics to market is, in an unusual twist, a non-profit called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies which has raised more than $130 million since its founding in 1986. MAPS, as it is known, has taken MDMA is a synthetic compound that is off-patent through late-stage clinical trials for the treatment of PTSD and is preparing to apply for FDA approval later this year.

MAPS holds the exclusive rights to the data supporting MDMA, preventing generic drug competition for at least five years, and has a for-profit subsidiary to handle the rollout if approved. Amy Emerson, CEO of the non-profit subsidiary, said she is focused on making sure insurers cover the drug, developing billing codes for therapy and training doctors to administer it.

All of these things are hard work, he said. How do we make sure there is access?

That same question irked Altman, president of Journey Colabs and former president of start-up accelerator Y Combinator, where his job was to spot underappreciated technology.

I remember looking at it thinking, like, “That can’t be true, that’s too good,” she recalled in an interview.

Altman is best known these days for spearheading a revolution in artificial intelligence, leading the company that mesmerized and unnerved much of the public with the release of a chatbot that could, in an instant, churn out human-like text . But he still sees unrealized potential in psychedelics and in the mission of Journeys, enthusiastically supported.

I don’t think anyone has yet figured out “what the psychedelic medicine business is going to be like” how it’s going to make economic sense and how we’re going to ensure that this is going to be a positive and safe experience for people. He added: “My hope is that Journey will find something that really works with this new approach.

He’s entrusting the details of this to Chowdhury, a Rhodes scholar and physician turned entrepreneur, who came to psychedelics through his own mental health struggles and credits them with saving his life. Chowdhury freely acknowledges that he doesn’t have a business model yet, but envisions Journey becoming a specialist service, providing psychedelic treatment to patients in rehab clinics the way wound care specialists are hired by hospitals.

For starters, he said, Journey is working to partner with companies conducting clinical trials of MDMA and psilocybin to run them at a rehabilitation center near Vail, Colo.

The center, operated by All Points North, markets itself as a luxury rehabilitation destination, offering high-end services such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy and catering for professional athletes. It’s also contracted to care for veterans, according to Chief Executive Officer Noah Nordheimer, who said the clientele ranges from middle-income and up.

Journey Colab highlighted the importance of making psychedelic therapy accessible to marginalized communities, set aside 10 percent of its foundation stake in a fund to benefit Indigenous groups in the United States, but focuses first on providing treatment with all supports available in a facility like All Points North.

Chowdhury explains the strategy by drawing on an analogy created by Silicon Valley. Journey is building the Tesla Roadster to try and get to the Model 3, he said, referring to Tesla’s high-end and mass-market EVs, respectively. We are starting in an environment where we have the support to be able to do this, he said, and we will apply it as a model to other centres.

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