Eleusis Draws on Research Into Psychedelics To Develop New Medicines for Inflammation
When Shlomi Raz, the founder of Eleusis Ltd., left his job as a managing director at Goldman Sachs in 2008 to study psychology at New York University, he said he already felt like a frustrated psychotherapist.
Today he believes his status as what he describes as a “naïve amateur” in the emerging psychedelic industry is an advantage for his young company as it pursues multiple drug development and care delivery initiatives to explore the medical uses of psychedelics.
Raz says he often spoke with colleagues about their problems, but found a different issue would come up the next week, often connected to the same core challenge. This rinse-repeat cycle seemed to continue until the person hit a point of complete surrender, which forced them to do a deeper recalibration.
Raz wondered, what if something could get them to that transformational moment faster?
While at NYU, Raz came across Roland Griffiths’ pioneering psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins University. Although he wasn’t primarily interested in the personal use of psychedelics, Raz says “nothing else I read during my education struck me as as interesting.”
As he learned more, Raz says he saw the mental health benefits of psychedelics gaining traction in public discussions.
“But there was this whole submerged potential, as well,” says Raz. He was especially drawn to scientific evidence showing that psychedelic substances had benefits outside of psychological applications, such as the reduction of inflammation. “I didn’t think major pharma was going to pick up that challenge.”
Raz says that after he had this insight, he cold called Charles Nichols, a professor of pharmacology at Louisiana State University and son of prominent psychedelics researcher David Nichols. Charles Nichols has been studying psychedelic substances for more than 25 years and is also considered a leader in the field.
According to Nichols, he doesn’t typically answer his phone because it’s almost always telemarketers. But this time he did.
Not long after he began calling Nichols, Raz founded Eleusis in 2013 as a London-based life science company. Taking its name from the Eleusinian Mysteries, the secret religious rites of ancient Greece, Eleusis has raised $14.5 million in two rounds of funding. The company has been conditionally approved by the U.K. Future Fund for a convertible loan program, which it hopes will bring in another 10 million pounds or about $12.5 million in financing this month.
Raz says that because he’s a newcomer and Eleusis isn’t a major player, funders came from a range of backgrounds across finance, life sciences, and cannabis, rather than from prominent investors in other businesses investigating psychedelic-based therapies.
As a former managing director at Goldman Sachs, and a man who is clearly not afraid to pick up the phone, Raz’s background may also play an important role in the ability of Eleusis to attract funding.
The company is pursuing care delivery services for psychedelic medicines and another separate track of drug development under its Eleusis Therapeutics division. Eleusis currently has seven employees, with plans to almost double their staff soon.
Because Nichols answered Raz’s calls, Eleusis now has a tech transfer arrangement with Louisiana State University. LSU holds the patents on Nichols’ work, while Eleusis has an exclusive license to take these discoveries to market and pay LSU a percentage of revenue.
Nichols is now an Eleusis-sponsored researcher and chair of its scientific advisory board.
Treatments for Inflammation, Alzheimer’s and Retinal Disease
Emeline Maillet, scientific director of Eleusis, is leading the company’s development of new drugs to address inflammation, and its role in treating Alzheimer’s and retinal disease.
Maillet is overseeing Eleusis’ study of a novel serotonin 5-HT 2A agonist – or chemical that binds to a receptor and produces a biological response. Our brains make serotonin, which is perhaps best known as the target of common pharmaceutical treatments for depression. Other psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin, also work on this specific serotonin receptor.
Eleusis’ new substance, called ELE-02, also binds to the serotonin receptor. ELE-02, and its forerunner ELE-01, are similar to substituted phenethylamines, a class of organic compounds which includes mescaline.
“We might be dealing with a potential new drug class,” says Maillet. She says ELE-02 is structurally related to mescaline, but may have greatly reduced psychoactivity at therapeutically useful doses. “It’s a completely different process than for LSD.”
ELE-02 was created by Nichols who says his goal was to develop a drug that retains the anti-inflammatory properties his studies have found in psychedelic substances, while reducing or managing the psychological effects.
Nichols explains that many major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer, involve inflammation. Chronic pain, like arthritis or back pain, is also associated with inflammation. Nichols believes that medications which manage inflammation, that are based on psychedelic substances, could potentially serve a broader population than mental health treatments using psychedelics.
“There are so many things that at their root are inflammation, so the potential is huge,” Nichols says. “I can’t believe nobody else is interested in this. I think we’re the only ones taking it seriously.”
As CBD delivers some of the benefits of cannabis without the mind-altering effects of THC, Raz says Eleusis is interested in managing the psychoactivity of psychedelics so patients can take them on a regular basis to reduce inflammation.
Advantages of Researching ELE Compounds
There are pros and cons for drug companies studying LSD for possible medical applications. There’s a wealth of existing data about the safety of LSD. But it can have an unpredictable effect on patients and has, for some, a social stigma as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
While Eleusis must prove the safety of ELE-02 for medical use, it is not classified by the DEA as Schedule 1 with no presently accepted medical use. Unlike the LSD molecule, it also has the potential for patent protection. Patent claims for the ELE series of compounds have been filed by LSU and licensed by Eleusis.
As Raz told Forbes earlier this year, “We thought it would be easier to first advance a new drug that was not scheduled, that we had developed for a different indication – in this case for retinal disease – which would have a much more cost-effective path to getting clinical approval. Once that drug was demonstrated to be potentially successful both therapeutically and commercially, we’d be in a position to raise the capital required to conduct a Phase 2 study of LSD in patients at risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s.”
The Eleusis research on retinal inflammation is informed by the work of Nichols’ collaborator Tim Foster, associate professor of virology at Louisiana State University and also an Eleusis-sponsored researcher. Nichols explains that because eye drops containing ELE compounds can be applied locally, patients could potentially treat retinal inflammation more directly than absorbing the substance through the stomach.
Clinical Trials for ELE-02 and LSD
Raz told Forbes earlier this year that Eleusis plans to conduct a Phase 2 study of an LSD-based therapy for patients at risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s. He says he expects the company to begin a phase 2 trial for a psychological and neurological treatment in late 2021, but can’t yet disclose details. A further study involving ELE compounds for reduction of eye inflammation will follow in 2022.
Raz says Eleusis is aiming for a Phase 1b safety study of LSD for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment starting by 2022 or 2023.
Eleusis is pursuing regulatory approval for their treatments in both the U.S. and the U.K, which Raz says gives the company an opportunity to serve two very different health systems and take advantage of expanded markets.
According to Raz, both the British Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency and the American Food and Drug Administration have been “remarkably supportive,” and he’s optimistic about receiving regulatory approvals in both countries.
Microdosing to Combat Inflammation
Eleusis research studies are focusing on the distinct effects of repeated low doses in treatment regimes for a range of substances, which some people call microdosing. An Eleusis study published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2019 gave older adults small doses of 5 μg, 10 μg, and 20 μg of LSD every fourth day over a 21-day period to demonstrate safety.
Much of the prior research on psychedelics has focused on their psychological effects, not inflammation. James Fadiman, who has helped popularize microdosing, emphasizes benefits for creativity, productivity or improvements in mood.
Researchers who investigate macrodosing have made a connection between psychedelics, inflammation and mental states. Psychiatrist Julie Holland notes in her new book, “Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics,” that macrodoses of psychedelics give users a sense of connection and peace that takes them out of the fight or flight response and puts them into a parasympathetic state.
Holland describes these ideas in a conversation with Lucid News.
“When we are in parasympathetic, that is an anti-inflammatory state,” explained Holland. “When you feel connected, you feel safe and when you feel safe, you’re in parasympathetic.”
Nichols believes that sub perceptual doses, where the patient doesn’t feel altered, are operating at a biological level, but could still have an impact on mental health. He notes that psychiatric disorders including depression and Alzheimer’s disease involve inflammation of the brain.
“I would say that microdosing could be enough to activate anti-inflammatory effects that lead to a variety of benefits, including psychiatric,” says Nichols.
Care Delivery Platform
While it develops medications for inflammation, Eleusis has a nearer-term goal: making psychedelic therapy safer and more affordable so it can become more broadly available.
Eleusis Health Solutions, which is a division of Eleusis Ltd., is developing a drug therapy platform to help with care delivery. The company is investigating the use of digital health solutions and operational support services. For example, Raz says the platform could monitor psychedelic therapy sessions via video in real time to ensure patient safety, reducing the potential for malpractice, while offering training opportunities for therapists.
Raz also questions whether a patient actually needs a therapist as an attendant during a psychedelic experience, or if the need for a trained psychotherapist is more critical in preparation and integration.
With a less-expensive sitter attending to the patient’s needs, and a technology tool providing oversight and support, Raz suggests the cost of the psychedelic session could be decreased while maintaining safety.According to the Eleusis web site, “The Eleusis care delivery platform will address the operational and logistical challenges of psychoactive drug therapy for existing care providers, while enhancing safety, efficacy, and cost efficiency.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that substituted phenethylamines include mescaline, but not LSD. Maillet has also clarified that ELE-02 may have greatly reduced psychoactivity at therapeutically useful doses.