Bicycle Day 2020 Was Truly Historic, But Not for the Reasons You Think Jamon A. Rahn, CEO of psychedelic pharmaceutical startup MindMed, offered a glimpse of the future of psychedelic science, including proprietary data and hints of an “LSD neutralizer.”

If COMPASS Pathways’ incorporation on June 13, 2016 marked the beginning of the end for open science in psychedelic research, April 19, 2020 may very well have marked the end of the beginning for the Corporadelic Era. Numerous psychedelic celebrities spoke at virtual Bicycle Day events commemorating Albert Hofmann’s infamous bike ride. However, the most notable occurrence of the day may have been an offhand comment made by a corporate invitee at an event hosted by Jackee Stang, founder of Delic Corp (the organization that swallowed Reality Sandwich).

In an interview with Stang, Jamon “JR” Rahn, the co-founder of psychedelic pharmaceutical startup MindMed—who used to advise “a group of Asian investors to structure and manage commodity-streams and trading opportunities into foreign mining companies”—offered a glimpse into the proprietary future of psychedelic science. In light of MindMed’s recent acquisition of an exclusive license to the “data, compounds, and patent rights” associated with Dr. Matthias Liechti’s research into LSD and other psychedelic compounds at the University of Basel, Rahn was asked what he had learned from this newly acquired data. His response was telling.

With a big smile, Rahn stated, “We’ve learned a lot, actually. We are a public company, so I can’t necessarily talk about a lot of what we learned, but everyone should stay tuned because we definitely want to talk more about how we’re advancing LSD through this data and how we ultimately want to make medicines that are better for patients, but also helpful to therapists.”

 

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This reply sits alongside COMPASS Pathways’ attempts to patent Albert Hofmann’s psilocybin synthesis in signalling that the aggressive tactics and proprietary approaches to intellectual property all-too-common in the world of Big Pharma are seeping into the fields of psychedelic science. Rahn’s comments stand in sharp contrast to the type of information and data sharing that have been commonplace within sanctioned (and underground) psychedelic research since Hofmann invented LSD and Sandoz made it readily available to researchers around the world.

On April 21, 2020, MindMed published a press release that could offer a glimpse of what Rahn may have been hinting at with his talk of helping therapists. This press release claimed that MindMed had developed “a neutralizer technology intended to shorten and stop the effects of an LSD trip during a therapy session.” While the press release didn’t identify the compound in question, one possible candidate could be ketanserin (a 5-HT2A antagonist), which Liechti’s lab previously described using in order to block effects from LSD. This has also been described elsewhere since at least 1998.

When reached for comment, Dr. Matthew Baggott, psychedelic researcher and former Director of Data Science and Engineering at Genentech, indicated that he thought using a 5-HT2A antagonist to stop a trip was obvious to a skilled practitioner and therefore not patentable. “We already know 5-HT2A antagonists prevent the effects of LSD or psilocybin if given in advance. And 5-HT2A antagonists can decrease hallucinatory syndromes in ongoing disease states.  So it stands to reason that 5-HT2A antagonists could stop a trip. In fact, it’s an obvious enough idea that websites selling grey market psychedelics have sold ketanserin for this purpose.”

Baggott went on to question the practical value of a medicine that stops psychedelic trips, “Terminating a trip because it becomes challenging or scary is often not in the best interest of the patient. Most therapists would recommend working with the experience, not trying to end it.” 

For Baggott, this raises a question of whether a patent on this idea would even be worth the expense of filing it, “I wonder if MindMed has really thought about who would buy this. Therapists won’t want it.  And, in the ER, where patients might be on multiple unknown drugs and have underlying mental health conditions, I imagine you’d treat apparent bad trips with a benzodiazepine, not something that is drug-class-specific. It makes me wonder, does this patent even have any value beyond generating publicity?”

In that same April 21 press release, MindMed appeared to attempt to insulate itself from critiques from within the “psychedelic community” by presenting some legal realities of patent law as though they were operating “principles” of its business model, stating:

“[MindMed] operates under the principle that long known psychedelic compounds themselves must remain in the public domain….”

But this isn’t unique to MindMed, this is how “prior art” and the “public domain” work. Prior art is any evidence that a given invention (in this case, a psychedelic compound) is already known. For example, COMPASS Pathways withdrew all 27 of its “claims of novelty” when experts demonstrated that its claims were covered by Albert Hofmann’s pre-existing psilocybin synthesis. In this quote, MindMed is simply stating it won’t take the same (failed) approach as COMPASS. This is little more than virtue signalling in an attempt to placate skeptics of for-profit, non-cooperative pharmaceutical approaches.

The press release also stated:

“MindMed defines [the bargain between innovators and the public] as a time-limited exclusive right for the patent owner to generate a return for funding the invention in exchange for dedicating the invention to the public domain once the patent term has expired.”

To be clear, this isn’t MindMed’s definition, this is actually how patent law is written in numerous federal and international contexts. The patent owner has exclusive rights to the patented invention until the patent expires, at which point the invention enters the public domain.

To the extent that these “principles” are actually enforced by governments, we can expect MindMed to adhere to them, but it would be foolish to mistake these proclamations as anything remotely approaching the spirit of open science. Rahn’s answer to Stang revealed his priorities: earning a return for his investors. To cap off an ugly couple of weeks for MindMed—including tasteless remarks about profiting off of the mental health effects of coronavirus—Rahn made it clear in Forbes where he and his company stand with regards to psychedelics more generally, stating, “I want nothing to do with those kinds of folks who want to decriminalize psychedelics.”

MindMed is presenting a familiar cluster of symptoms endemic to pharmaceutical companies within late stage capitalism: a lack of willingness to share data, aggressive patenting, and pretending that the high costs associated with treatment in this context are simply the “price of progress.” This destructive syndrome has proliferated ever since big pharma was captured by the one percent. Unfortunately—if history is any indicator—without immediate intervention, the diagnosis is likely terminal for true innovation and exploration within the fields of psychedelic science.

 

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