COMPASS Pathways Is Trying to Patent Psilocybin for More Mental Health Conditions Than You Can Name

March 18, 2021

News that COMPASS Pathways is attempting to patent psychedelic therapy room specifications and therapist behaviors started an online firestorm about the company’s “monopolistic and shady behaviors,” but so far the debates have missed the biggest threats lurking in COMPASS’s international patent applications.

COMPASS Pathways' PCT application WO 2020/212952 A1

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In recent weeks, scrutiny of COMPASS Pathways’ international patent applications has caused debates over patents to break out between a collection of influential voices across the psychedelic landscape.

Tim Ferriss’s critique of psychedelic patent land-grabs—posted nearly three years after the issue was initially raised—erupted into a cross-platform open letter duel between himself and ATAI Life Sciences’ Co-Founder and COMPASS investor, Christian Angermayer—with the occasional high-profile response from Rick Doblin, the Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). 

Following this, MAPS Board member David Bronner—of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps fame—chimed in with a blog post entitled, “Sounding the Alarm on Compass’s Interference with Oregon’s Psilocybin Therapy Program.” 

Bronner begins by expressing alarm at a recent Vice article from Shayla Love, which details COMPASS’s application to patent “a clinical setting with mood lighting, soft furniture, subdued colors and a good sound system.” Details like these—along with allegations that COMPASS has started mobilizing opposition to Measure 109 in Oregon—inspired Bronner to come out against COMPASS’s “monopolistic and shady behavior.”


How Compass Pathways envisions the future of psych3d3l1c therapy 🙄

♬ original sound – nu hippie

This high-profile back and forth between millionaire elites and psychedelic executives offered a number of questionable takes. Angermayer declared, “Capitalism…is by far the best economic system tried to date,” (on the heels of both lethal power outages in Texas due to the state’s free market fantasies and a new study on the grim realities of climate change). Ferriss preened over his role as “an early investor or advisor” in companies such as Uber and Facebook, each of which has had demonstrably corrosive effects on global society (including facilitating political violence up to and including the incitement of genocide). 

In a LinkedIn post in response to Ferriss, Angermayer stated, “Let me summarize my position as follows: The patents in question only protect very specific, synthetic, isolated compounds and associated processes, and – in my view – they represent the best means of accelerating patient access and optionality in the midst of a mental health crisis.”

Commenting on Angermayer’s post, Doblin wrote, “Your clarification is reassuring that Compass’ patent application on therapeutic methods for psilocybin is only meant to apply to the use of Compass’ specific psilocybin.” 

While Doblin’s comment—and Angerymayer’s claims—have flown under the radar and received little-to-no scrutiny, they present the most fascinating part of this online firestorm: the fact that so little of what COMPASS is actually trying to patent has been explored. While attempts to patent room specifications and therapist behaviors are certainly worth discussing, the yet-to-be-discussed components of COMPASS’s patent applications are arguably more alarming. 

COMPASS’s patents focus on “psilocybin or an active metabolite thereof,” not just COMP360 (Polymorph A)

Between COMPASS’s three (1,2,3) international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications, the company is attempting to patent psilocybin treatment for almost every mental health condition you might think of. Not only that, the applications’ claims include treatment with “psilocybin or an active metabolite thereof.” According to Graham Pechenik, a patent lawyer with Calyx Law, “Depending on how the ultimate claims are construed, such language may arguably cover administration of any compound that is converted to the active metabolite in the body, not only administration of the active metabolite itself.”

If claims like these are approved—which is not guaranteed—they could include drugs such as 4-AcO-DMT, or CaaMTech’s recently announced novel psilocin prodrugs: 4-AcO-MET hydrofumarate, 4-AcO-MALT hydrofumarate, and 4-AcO-DALT fumarate.

Notably, these applications reach as broadly as possible and do not limit themselves to COMPASS’s already-granted COMP360 psilocybin formulation. Instead, they include a wide range of claims to “psilocybin or an active metabolite thereof,” and then also include narrower claims to their COMP360 Polymorph A—presumably as an option in the event patent examiners reject their broader “psilocybin or an active metabolite thereof” claims.

Looking at the most extensive PCT application in question—WO 2020/212952 A1—COMPASS is attempting to patent:

  • Virtually all routes of administration of psilocybin—including vaginal and rectal administration;
  • Specifications of psilocybin therapy settings including soft furniture, muted colors, high-resolution sound systems, couches or beds;
  • Specifications for patient-therapist interactions ranging from the use of breathing exercises to calm subjects; to holding a subject’s hand, arm or shoulder; to a therapist reminding a patient of at least one therapeutic intention;
  • The ability for therapists to provide psychological support remotely through a mobile phone app or website.
  • Psilocybin Treatment for subjects with Depression. This includes treatment with psilocybin or an active metabolite thereof in subjects with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder 1 and 2, atypical depression, catatonic depression, a depressive disorder due to a medical condition, postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, seasonal affective disorder, treatment-resistant depression, and depression in subjects with at least one or more comorbidity such as alcoholism, anxiety disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, or cancer.
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with ADHD;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Schizotypal (Personality) Disorder, Delusional Disorder, Schizophrenia, or Schizoaffective Disorder;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder, Male Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, or Excessive Sexual Drive;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Bipolar Disorder 1 and 2, and Cyclothymic Disorder;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Insomnia Disorder, Hypersomnolence Disorder, Narcolepsy, or Primary Central Sleep Apnea;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Schizoid Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Age-Related Hearing Loss or Tinnitus;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects who Suffer From Pain;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Multiple Sclerosis, Cranial Nerve Disorder, Neuromyelitis Optica, Bell’s Palsy, Guillain Barre Syndrome, Demyelinating Disease of Central Nervous System, or Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuritis;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Myelopathy, Traumatic Brain Injury, Intellectual Disabilities, Mania, Neurodegeneration, Paraphilic disorders, Suicidal Behavior Disorder, Nonsuicidal Self-Injury, Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder, Gl Tract Related Diseases, Epilepsy, Sickle Cell Disease, locked-in syndrome, restless leg syndrome, stroke, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS);
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Major Depressive Disorder;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with Treatment Resistant Depression;
  • Psilocybin treatment for subjects with 61 “Diseases, Disorders, or Conditions”: In Claim 111 of application ‘952 Compass enumerates 61 different diseases, disorders, and conditions it would like to treat with psilocybin. These include—but are not even close to limited toPyromania; Selective Mutism; Cannabis-Related Disorders; Skin-Picking; and Agoraphobia
  • Psilocybin treatment for Neurocognitive Disorders due to Alzheimer’s, Lewy Bodies, Traumatic Brain Injury, Prion Disease, HIV Infection, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s.
  • Psilocybin treatment for concussion
  • Psilocybin treatment for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE);
  • Psilocybin treatment for Language Disorder, Speech Sound Disorder (Phonological Disorder);
  • Psilocybin treatment for Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering);
  • Psilocybin treatment for Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder;
  • Psilocybin treatment for Tourette’s Disorder;
  • Psilocybin treatment for Persistent (Chronic) Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder
  • Psilocybin treatment for Amnestic Disorder Due to Known Physiological Condition;
  • Psilocybin treatment for Transient Cerebral Ischemic Attack, Cerebral Infarction, Cerebral Bleeding, Progressive Supranuclear Ophthalmoplegia, or Retrograde Amnesia.
  • This application includes all of the above claims specifically with treatment using COMPASS’s proprietary psilocybin Polymorph A, as well.

The other two PCT applications—WO 2020/212948 A1 and WO 2020/212951 A1—include a range of other conditions COMPASS is attempting to patent with psilocybin or an active metabolite thereof, including eating disorders; cluster headaches; anxiety disorders; stroke; inflammatory bowel disease; inflammation; sleep-wake disorders; and epilepsy.

The implications of these PCT applications run counter to public statements COMPASS and Angermayer have made in defense of the company’s patent strategy.

COMPASS’s website states, “The patent protection we are seeking does not cover naturally occurring mushrooms, it would not prevent others from creating different solutions for their own psilocybin synthesis, nor would it restrict others researching in this field.” In his recent response to Ferriss, Angermayer wrote that, “[COMPASS’s patents] do not infringe upon new scientific research or the rights of indigenous/sacred practice.” [Emphasis added]

Contrary to these statements, if the claims laid out in these PCT applications are granted, they would absolutely restrict others from working with psilocybin or its active metabolites for an overwhelmingly broad range of mental illnesses and conditions. 

If COMPASS’s applications for the use of psilocybin and its metabolites were to be granted as patents, it would mean that patients would need to seek permission from COMPASS for those specific treatments, or that companies would have to license the right to use psilocybin for certain treatments from COMPASS.

“These three PCT applications may become as many as ten patents or twelve patents once they hit the US in prosecution,” said Pechenik. “Companies can keep filing continuation applications with new claims, as long as there’s support in the original application. They may be willing to pay for all that because they know the outcome of getting something like psilocybin for anorexia could be millions of dollars in licensing or expanding into a market that nobody else has access to.”

Filing PCT applications fast tracks the patent application process in any of the 153 PCT contracting countries. When a PCT application is filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), it acts as a placeholder in these contracting countries for 30 months from the date of filing. Within that time, a company can use their PCT filing as priority documents for filing individual patents in PCT countries—saving the company from having to prepare separate applications for each different country. 

Scorched Earth

Filing broad patent applications primarily serves two strategic purposes—the first being the potential to secure approval for more claims, and the second being to interfere with competition.

“It’s now much harder for others to file their own application on treating, for example, hoarding disorder or pyromania with psilocybin, [because COMPASS has filed for that]. It scorches the earth around them and keeps others from entering the space with their own applications,” Pechenik said. 

Such strategies create an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, and doubt for other players in the field. For example, because COMPASS has treatment of pyromania with psilocybin covered in their PCT application, this signals that they may file patents for this indication in any of the PCT countries. In turn, other companies and inventors may stay away from that practice or avoid pursuing their own patents and/or research on that indication. “It just kind of scares everybody off,” Pechenik said.

Circling back to the first strategic reason for filing broad patent claims—securing approval for more claims—one unique issue in budding industries like the psychedelic pharmaceutical space is the likelihood that many patent examiners will be looking at their very first psychedelic patents. To determine the novelty of a patent, examiners must judge its claims against the relevant prior art in its field. The chance that an average patent examiner would be familiar with prior psychedelic art is slim. 

According to Vice, patent lawyer David Casimir said that “filing broad patent applications is a common tactic—even including claims that companies know aren’t patentable. But it can lead to bad patents…If the patent office doesn’t do a good job, then they’ll say, ‘Okay, you can have this broad claim.’”

“Bad patents are bad for everyone,” Casimir told Vice. “Except maybe the patent owner who owns them. They’re just a drag on the system and an increase in cost. It slows down access to the market. It makes things more expensive.”

To avoid these situations, some organizations are attempting to make it easier for patent examiners to access information on psychedelics prior art.

Porta Sophia: A line of defense?

One effort currently underway—in which Casimir is involved as a team member—is a resource for patent examiners that work in the psychedelic space called Porta Sophia (Latin and Greek for “doorway to wisdom”). This information portal will make it easier for patent reviewers around the world to find relevant prior art, Casimir told Psymposia.

The Porta Sophia project will seek to identify all publicly available patents and applications in the space, focusing on major topics such as compositions of matter, methods of use, manufacturing, delivery systems, care protocols, and drug combinations.

Casimir notes this “is doable now, but will be more challenging in the future.”

Following their collection, highly trained reviewers will curate these applications and identify relevant prior art. This prior art will then be provided via the portal and made available through an easy-to-use interface. The project will also curate, and make searchable, information from many existing databases that will include prior art that might otherwise be challenging to find. Over time, Casimir said that Porta Sophia will seek feedback from patent reviewers to develop the system in a manner that makes their jobs easier and more efficient.

Though there is no set date for the launch of Porta Sophia, Casimir said that the team hopes to have a first version out soon.

Doblin told Psymposia that MAPS has also recently begun preparing documents to make available to the repositories that patent examiners use to review prior art.

COMPASS Investors Support Monopolies 

As shocking as COMPASS’s international patent applications may be, none of this should come as a surprise. COMPASS’s most notorious investor, Peter Thiel, has publicly stated, You shouldn’t compete, you should try to have a monopoly. Christian Angermayer recently declared that “If a monopoly/duopoly emerged…Then it would be a sign of quality and constitutional reward. In that case, you should not blame them, but blame the rest, who then clearly would have not done a good job.” Perhaps blame would actually lie with COMPASS’s business strategies and its executives who publicly state it will “absolutely not” interfere with researchers’ ability to conduct research while privately assuring investors that “many psychedelic companies out there will never be able to bring a product to market, as they will hit the patents of Compass and Atai.”

Christian Angermayer’s March 2021 email to investors shared by an anonymous source to Motherboard.

The reality is that no corporadelic monopoly or duopoly currently exists, although there appears to be an increasing likelihood of such a development. In order to understand how we wound up here—and why organizations are scrambling to construct prior art repositories like Porta Sophia as lines of defense against would-be monopolists and the forces of MarketWorld—we must acknowledge widespread complicity in allowing this to happen. Consider the overly credulous individuals and organizations who have believed COMPASS’s assertions since MAPS first started providing it with legitimacy and support dating back to at least 2016—even after it pivoted from a non-profit to a for-profit. As Nikita Alexandrov, observed in his 2020 Psychedelic Industry Insights Report, “The $300M worth of investable deals have only existed since the public formation of Compass Pathways in 2016.” 

In an effort to acquire mainstream acceptance, credibility, and fundraising dollars, many researchers and advocates of psychedelics believed that the field was immune to capitalist logic, or that incoming flows of capital were, in fact, a “sign of our success,” as Doblin likes to repeat

Similarly, in a rush to embrace feelgood narratives about the future of psychedelic mainstreaming, some media organizations have laundered COMPASS’s reputation. Rather than fact-checking or engaging in research, they’ve used their platforms to uncritically promote Doblin’s rose-colored narrative that, with regards to “the easy criticism of ‘Oh capitalism is bad, for-profit companies are bad and they are trying to do evil things with psychedelics to monopolize the market’- I don’t think that’s really happening.”

The belief that “capitalism is a good way to scale things up,” as proclaimed by Michael Pollan, has pervaded subsets of the “psychedelic community” despite all evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, Angermayer’s assertions that capitalism is “the best economic system,” and that “None of the for-profit companies will ever come knocking on somebody’s door to confiscate homegrown plants,” are red herrings intended to distract from the issue at hand: monopolistic intellectual property strategies by the world’s largest psychedelic pharmaceutical company.

We shouldn’t be surprised that COMPASS has once again demonstrated a large gap between its words and actions. This isn’t a unique situation; it’s business as usual for big pharma and psychedelic pharmaceuticals alike. Rather than assuming that psychedelic corporations will (or even can) act in the public good, proponents of mainstreaming must prove that firms can function as “exceptions” to capitalist logic (think Mondragon). But until such actors truly display a willingness and ability to swim against the tides of corporadelia, the words of COMPASS investor Peter Thiel continue to echo across the psychedelic terrain: You shouldn’t compete, you should try to have a monopoly.

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