2022-04-19| InterviewsSpecial

Refining Psychedelics into Medicine – An Interview with Doug Drysdale, CEO of Cybin

by Joy Lin
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Today, there are more than 50 publicly traded companies focusing on the development and distribution of psychedelic-like drugs in the US. Many of them, such as MindMed, atai Life Sciences, and GH Research are developing classic and next-generation psychedelic molecules to treat anxiety, depression and addiction. The psychedelics market is projected to grow from $2 billion in 2020 to $10.75 billion by 2027, with a growth rate that may even outpace the legal US cannabis market. 

Cybin is one of those companies adapting psychedlics into therapeutics. The Toronto-based biotech company, founded in 2019, was listed on Canada’s NEO exchange in 2020 and then on the New York Stock Exchange small-cap equity market in July 2021.

GeneOnline had the pleasure to interview Doug Drysdale, the CEO of Cybin Inc., who believes psychedelics could return patients with control over their lives, and reduce the burden of mental illness in communities. And not just any psychedelics like tryptamines and their derivatives (e.g. psilocybin), but next-generation hallucinogenic molecules that could act fast, have reduced side effects and lower the costs of treatment.

In the following conversation, which has been edited for clarity and length, Drysdale shares his insights on the trends defining the psychedelic industry as well as the efforts Cybin is taking to overcome barriers to uptake.

Related Article: From Forbidden Drugs to Psychotropic Cures: A “Psychedelic Boom” Breaks New Ground in Treating Mental Illnesses


What Are the Rolling Trends in the Psychedelics Industry?


Psychedelic therapeutics have grown exponentially over the past few years, boosted by the demand for better mental health treatments. 

“Many of the companies that you see in the sector are planning to treat mental illnesses using psychedelics as prescription therapeutic treatments,” said Drysdale. A number of novel treatments have shown promise in treating depression, anxiety and addiction, he said. 

A large number of academic studies on humans indicate that psychedelics have the potential to remove depressive symptoms or addictive cravings for months at a time with just a few treatment sessions. 

This could be life-changing for many people, said Drysdale, and could present a paradigm shift in how mental disorders are treated. 

However, many well-known psychedelic molecules come with limitations that impede regulatory approval, uptake and reimbursement.  

To distinguish itself from competitors, Cybin puts emphasis on the patient experience. From the bench to the bedside, the patient is involved in novel drug development to optimized treatment protocols to supportive psychotherapy sessions.

Cybin’s goal is to optimize psychedelic molecules to deliver a fast-acting treatment with a shorter treatment duration and reduced side effects. The company is synthesizing analogs and derivatives of psilocybin and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) which may overcome the limitations of classic psychedelics. The approach can potentially lower treatment times and costs, and be adopted by physicians, payers and patients alike. 

Related Article: New Ventures Go IPO Continuously As “Psychedelics” Enter the Mental Health Market


Barriers to Psychedelics


Just like any other drugs, the FDA and other regulatory bodies have set out well-defined drug development roadmaps for turning psychedelics into therapeutics. This involves gold-standard, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials that can demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the treatments in treating mental illness. 

Other obstacles that must be overcome include DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) scheduling (guidelines that determine the medicinal potential of a drug and the likelihood that it may be abused), stigma and decades of misinformation. The generation of positive safety and efficacy study data will be critical in overturning these obstacles, said Drysdale. 

Commercially, classic psychedelics may be a difficult sell as many of them require the patient to be treated in a clinic for 8-10 or more hours. New psychedelic molecules would need to be designed to significantly reduce time in the clinic, clinical supervision and system costs. 

Classic psychedelics may come with risks and side effects that could complicate their use. In a recent Phase 2 study, about 30% of patients experienced transient nausea and headache – these are the most common side effects. 

Patient responses to classic psychedelics can be highly variable as psilocybin is a prodrug. Prodrugs need to be metabolized in order to be active; that metabolic process varies across individuals, which may lead to unpredictable outcomes in some patients. 

Related Article: History on Depression Therapy: the Past and the Psychedelic Future


Psilocybin Analogs and Their Benefits 


Given the potential side effects of psilocybin, it would make sense if next-generation molecules act faster and leave the body quicker. This could be achieved by modifying the original psychedelic molecule, creating analogs. A number of companies, such as Massachusetts-based Lenham Pharmaceuticals and Toronto-based Mindset Pharma, have launched preclinical efforts into psilocybin and DMT analogs. 

Deuteration, the process of adding deuterium to a molecule, is one of the ways to change a drug’s properties. Cybin has taken to deuterating its psilocybin, and is expecting to initiate human trials later this year. Its analogs, CYB003 and CYB004, are designed to bypass the metabolism from prodrug to active drug, and penetrate the brain more efficiently. This may allow the patient to experience the therapeutic effect at lower doses, with reduced side effects such as headache and nausea. In preclinical models, CYB003 treatment leads to at least a 50% reduction in variability compared to oral psilocybin, suggesting more predictable outcomes. The investigational drugs are indicated for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and anxiety disorders. 

“We believe that optimizing psychedelic molecules for fast onset of action, short treatment duration, and reduced side effects could potentially improve patient outcomes, and reduce treatment time and costs,” said Drysdale. “This could decrease the burden on patients who rely on daily antidepressants for treatment, and the burden of mental health on our communities.” 


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