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Berkeley Launches Psychedelic Science Center & COMPASS Prepares for IPO

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Berkeley Launches Psychedelic Science Center & COMPASS Prepares for IPO

Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics

“To the psychologist, the religious propensities of man must be at least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his mental constitution”

—William James

The Trip Report has mostly focused on ‘practical matters’ of drug development, the delivery of mental and behavioral health, clinical trials, the FDA gauntlet, psychedelic manufacturing, synthesis, extraction, legalization, decriminalization, etc.

We haven’t touched on the more esoteric/religious/spiritual qualities of psychedelics and the significance of the mystical experience, awe, and mediation or prayer.

But the inherent tension between a science-based medical system predicated on objectivity, exactitude and rationality, and interior spiritual  experiences built on a religious scaffolding of metaphor/narrative/belief/knowledge of one’s mortality, is where things get interesting.

So it is wildly exciting to see a major university initiate a psychedelic research center that includes spiritual and theological investigations alongside scientific pursuits:

“The UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP) will explore psychedelics as tools for understanding the brain and mind, enhancing well-being, and deepening spirituality. In collaboration with faculty from UCSF and the Graduate Theological Union…”

The fascination that many of us have with psychedelic medicine is how stakeholders in healthcare (insurance, hospitals, healthcare administration, etc.) will grapple with and interpret therapeutic agents that potentiate a mystical experience within the context of treatment for mental health conditions.

Part of the challenge is that words sometimes fail to capture the subjective experience of addressing depression, PTSD, anxiety, and addiction with psychedelic therapies. Historically, spiritual or religious practices and frameworks have been anchors for the psyche when encountering non-ordinary states of consciousness. This is less true today, as many people have moved away from more traditional religious practices and are seeking new ways to express their spirituality.

How does medical science, healthcare systems, and providers integrate such a fundamentally different framework into modern practice?

The team assembling the Berkeley center is trying to make sense of this challenge:

“…the center plans to collaborate with the Graduate Theological Union, an independent consortium of religious schools and theological institutes based in Berkeley and the larger San Francisco Bay Area, in the development of an immersive learning program on psychedelics and spirituality.”

I cannot wait to see what comes of this collaboration.

Two other notable aspects of this project include therapist training (in conjunction with the Theological Union) and a journalism/public education component headed up by non-other than Michael Pollan:

“The UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics will host a public-facing website, overseen by Michael Pollan, with the goal of fostering a more well-informed and nuanced understanding of psychedelics. The website will host a broad palette of tools to help educate the public about pathbreaking psychedelic research.”

These qualities make this a unique project in the psychedelic space while perhaps paving the way for questions about consciousness, meaning and spirituality in a modern healthcare setting.

COMPASS Pathways IPO RoadShow

COMPASS Pathways CEO George Goldsmith, President Lars Wilde, and CFO Piers Morgan  made their pitch to investors over the last week in preparation for the much anticipated COMPASS IPO.

The company’s initial public offering is expected to raise about $100 million at a $570 million valuation.

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According to COMPASS, proceeds of the offering will be used to continue the Phase II trial of COMP360 for Treatment-Resistant Depression, evaluate additional indications, develop the digital component of the treatment, and establish Centers of Excellence, specialized healthcare institutions that deliver focused treatments for a specific patient demographic.

COMPASS is positioning itself to investors as a mental health company building the future of psychiatry rather than a psychedelic company, an important distinction considering the additional layers of infrastructure they are building.

Beyond the COMP360 research program, COMPASS initiatives include therapist training, a digital platform, strategic partnerships with payers and health systems, and the generation of real-world data in order to ensure that insurance plans will cover psychedelic assisted therapy.

Key to this infrastructure is a digital platform that COMPASS intends to build to support preparation, integration, and follow up care. This includes a technology called Digital Phenotyping which collects data from a patient’s smartphone such as behavioral actions, gross motor activity, and usage patterns to algorithmically assess mental health and possibly predict the need for follow up treatment.

The COMPASS strategy for scaling the delivery of psychedelic-assisted therapy and collecting real-world evidence in support of insurance coverage hinges on their digital platform.

The interface between psychedelic medicine and digital technology has been a running theme of The Trip Report. A significant potential bottleneck for affordable access to psychedelic-assisted therapy is the time required by therapists to provide this treatment. COMPASS says it is developing a protocol that leverages group administration and technology to chip away at this problem.

The other problem COMPASS is hoping to solve is insurance reimbursement. Digitally gathering ‘real-world’ data appears to be central to the company’s strategy to develop therapies that can be covered by existing health insurance providers. We plan to dive deeper into this topic in upcoming dispatches.

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Image: Elena Zhukova via UC Berkeley

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