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A Y Combinator-backed startup just raised $39 million to develop new psychedelic treatments for depression

Jonathan Sporn is the founder and CEO of Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals.Jonathan Sporn is the founder and CEO of Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals.

Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals

  • Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals wants to develop the next generation of psychedelic medicines.
  • The company is creating psychedelic drugs that work faster and may not have hallucinogenic effects.
  • The company just raised $39 million from investors and plans to start clinical trials next year.

Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals is trying to develop a new type of psychedelic medicine — one that has all the mental health benefits of psychedelic treatment, but without the drawbacks. 

The Y Combinator alumnus is developing new treatments that work similarly to psychedelics like psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, or DMT, the hallucinogen found naturally in many animals and plants, but that have been engineered to work faster, last shorter periods of time, or lack hallucinogenic effects all together. 

Gilgamesh announced on Thursday that it had raised a $39 million round led by Prime Movers Lab. The company said it plans to start clinical trials for two different treatments in early 2023 with the funding raised. 

“A lot of people still recognize that these particular drug targets that are amenable to rapid acting therapeutic effects are going to be the future, even though it may take a bit of time,” Jonathan Sporn, Gilgamesh’s cofounder and CEO, told Insider.

Sporn said that Gilgamesh was borne out of the idea that while psychedelic molecules hold a lot of potential for treating mental illnesses, companies developing molecules that have already been existence for a long time would struggle to be successful in the long run because the treatments can be time-consuming to take for patients. Additionally, the medicines themselves are similar to what a lot of other companies are working on.

The Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals teamThe Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals team

Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals

So as the psychedelics industry has developed over the past few years, companies like Gilgamesh have pivoted their focus to developing completely new drugs.

These new drugs are easier to patent compared to well-known psychedelic compounds, which have been used and studied for a long time. Patents are essential for biotech companies like Gilgamesh to make money if their drugs are approved.

But what Gilgamesh is also doing differently than other psychedelics companies like Compass Pathways and organizations like MAPS is creating drugs that work faster and have less hallucinogenic effects.

Many psychedelics drugs in development today take hours to administer and have strong hallucinogenic effects, which makes treatment times lengthy and expensive; new drugs that lack those characteristics could be easier for practitioners to administer and for patients to access. 

“What we wanted to do was to look at these molecules, the scaffolds, the targets, and then develop novel molecules that had better therapeutic profiles than these first generation compounds,” he said.

Next year, Gilgamesh will start two early stage trials with a handful of patients— both of which will look at depression. 

One of the treatments in development is called GM-1020 and is similar to ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects that has shown promise in treating depression. Sporn told Insider that the company is developing the drug as a pill that can work quickly in patients and can hopefully be taken at home because it will lack the hallucinogenic effects of standard ketamine treatments.

Another drug being tested, GM-2505, is a compound similar to DMT that is currently being developed as an IV infusion. GM-2505 will have psychedelic effects, though they’re expected to last just an hour. By comparison, some other psychedelic drugs in development — like psilocybin and MDMA — have hallucinatory effects that are expected to last up to 8 hours in the clinic. 

Sporn told Insider that while the company’s initial tests are focused on depression, they’re also exploring whether these drugs could help treat other illnesses, like bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorders, anxiety, and OCD. 

“We think that those kinds of treatments where there’s a very large unmet need will be particularly interesting,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider