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Healthcare | Technology

What needs to happen before we can pursue psychedelic medicine?

29 Mar 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

The role of medicinal psychedelics in treating psychiatric conditions is increasingly being supported by clinical trials, sparking a significant rise in industry investment over the last few years.

At present, around eighty drug companies, globally, are pursuing psychedelic medicines and, in 2021, more than $370 million was channelled into the sector. By 2027, the global market is projected to reach $10.75 billion.

Dr Prash P, Co-Founder of Enosis Therapeutics says the industry is making great progress, but is concerned some areas of the treatment process need more attention.

He highlights that much of the innovation surrounding medicinal psychedelics relates to the drugs themselves, and says factors that support the patient experience are often neglected.

“The way we conduct psychedelic therapy now hasn’t changed much since it was introduced in the 1950s. We have put millions of dollars into improving what Mother Nature has honed for millennia – the psychedelic substances – and have failed to go for the low hanging innovation fruit,” he told Informa Connect, ahead of the Medicinal Psychedelics Conference.

The importance of the human side

Factors like experience design and the human elements of the psychedelic therapy process have not yet been explored to their proper depths; and this could stunt industry progress, Dr P argued.

“With psychedelic medicine, the drug will only take you so far. I like to think of it as a key to open the door – but it is what you do when you go through that door that makes all the difference.

“This is why it is absolutely essential to support people on their psychedelic trip. Whether through personalising their experience, projecting their mental model, or obtaining bio feedback.

“To this end, therapeutic frameworks and therapist training are really obvious targets for innovation, but they are often missed,” he said.

Technology, too, can support the psychedelic experience, but its potential is still largely untapped.

In recent years, the sector has seen the introduction of platforms that help guide the patient experience through music, along with streamlined EEG devices that are less intimidating and more ‘trip-friendly’ than their traditional counterparts. Meanwhile, Dr P’s company utilises virtual reality (VR) to help patients explore their own psyche.

“Virtual Reality creates a liminal space that is neither tethered in this reality, nor in a totally altered state. The patient can project their mental model, be fully present, and is equipped with a full range of tools to explore their psyche. It doesn’t interfere with or duplicate the psychedelic trip; it acts as a toolkit for introspective exploration.”

While these developments have made a valuable contribution to the field of medicinal psychedelics, there are still large segments of the patient experience that could be better supported, Dr. P argued.

“We have only scratched the surface in terms of how we can help patients get more from their trip and improve their outcomes,” he said.

Developing experience-related innovation

Dr P, who is former CEO of the world’s first dedicated cryptocurrency brokerage, says his background gave him insight into how financial forces can shape industries.

He believes the business models that underpin the psychedelic value chain may be to blame for the shortfall in experience- and human-related innovation.

Pharmaceutical companies, which derive most of their profits from commercialising intellectual property, are highly incentivised to innovate. In contrast, other segments of the value chain are less so, he said.

“My experience has taught me that unfortunately, a vote from the dollar counts far more than a vote from science. So the money going into an industry really dictates how it forms.

“In psychedelics, the human side of business doesn’t make as much money as the pharmaceutical side, in which you can patent things and charge a huge premium. Things you can’t build a huge IP moat around are harder to commercialise – and that’s what I believe is driving this pharmaceutical-led model of innovation.

“This has really led my thinking on how we innovate in this sector.”

Soon however, the tide may turn, he said, when real-world clinical usage of medicinal psychedelics highlights the importance of human-led models.

“When the research surrounding these drugs matures, there will be a point of reckoning were we realise there are only modest differences in end-outcomes between ‘psylocibin A’ versus ‘psylocibin B or C’.

“At that stage, we might finally acknowledge the value of the non-pharmacological elements modulating the experience. Just an hour spent mentally-preparing a patient, such that they approach the psychedelic experience with openness, could have more of an impact than altering the drug itself. But this will likely only become apparent when we begin using these drugs in therapeutics.”

About Dr P

Dr Prash P is a medical doctor and psychedelic researcher and one of Australia’s leading advocates for accessible psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. He is the co-founder of Enosis Therapeutics, a Melbourne-based startup leveraging the use of Virtual Reality technology to design novel therapeutic frameworks for psychedelic therapy.

Dr P will share more thoughts on how he thinks the medicinal psychedelics industry could progress at the upcoming Medicinal Psychedelics Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s inaugural event will be held June 2 at the Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne.

Learn more and register your place here.

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