New York University has raised $10 million from philanthropists and MindMed to establish a new center for the study of psychedelic therapies. The NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, a new hub for both research and physician training, will be located at the NYU Langone Health medical center in New York City. The project received support from a number of high profile donors including philanthropist Carey Turnbull.
The center already has multiple clinical trials underway. Dr. Michael P. Bogenschutz, a professor of psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine who is serving as the center’s director, says it will build on more than a decade of psychedelic research at NYU.
The center “will provide a structure and infrastructure to create a more robust, comprehensive and sustainable enterprise,” says Bogenschutz.
NYU’s center for psychedelic medicine is one of a number of similar academic research centers that have sprung up since last year. In January 2020, John Hopkins University launched the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research in Baltimore, Maryland. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City launched The Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research in January of 2021.
NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine is unique, however, because it is offering a training program for psychedelic researchers.
“One of the things that makes [the NYU center] different is that we have this training program as a core part of our mission,” says Bogenschutz. “The goal of this is to train investigators in how to conduct clinical research and preclinical research on psychedelic compounds.”
Psychedelic medicine is a rapidly expanding area of research, says Bogenschutz, and there is a need for more investigators trained in the nuances of working in the field. Handling psychedelic substances in a medical setting must take into account the mind altering effects of the drugs, says Bogenschutz, and how best to manage those effects for clinical benefit instead of treating them merely as a side effect.
According to Bogenschutz, the training program at the NYU center will support the education of four trainees, two early career faculty members and two postdoctoral fellows.
“We are looking to fill the two postdoctoral positions in the training program,” he says. “We are looking for people who have the skills that would give them outstanding potential to become outstanding researchers in the field of psychedelic medicine.”
Those skills could include a background in clinical medication development, the biomarkers of drug effects or a host of brain functions, including cognition, motivation, rewards processing, emotional processing, decision making or ambulatory control, says Bogenschutz.
Applicants could come from the fields of neuroscience, neuroimaging, psychology, basic research or preclinical work. The program would also give trainees the ability to both collaborate with other researchers and publish, says Bogenschutz.
The largest single donation – $5 million – came from MindMed (Mind Medicine Inc.), a psychedelic pharmaceutical company headquartered in New York. MindMed’s donation is going specifically toward the training program, says Bogenschutz.
NYU and MindMed have collaborated in the past on 18-MC, an ibogaine related molecule being developed by MindMed for anti-addiction therapy. That molecule is not part of the training program, says Bogenschutz, and there is no agreement between NYU and MindMed about intellectual property arising from the center’s research.
MindMed was not available to comment for this story. In a press release, JR Rahn, co-founder and chief executive officer of MindMed, stated that “Few clinicians and institutions like NYU Langone Health and NYU Grossman School of Medicine are capable of conducting clinical research with psychedelic-inspired medicines. The need to train the next generation of investigators, and ultimately the entire psychiatry community in America, is critical to MindMed’s mission of alleviating mental health with the use of psychedelics in the American mental healthcare system.”
Ongoing Research Into Alcohol Use Disorder
The NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine will be a hub for NYU Lagone’s ongoing research in psychedelics. A phase II trial of psilocybin as a possible treatment for alcohol use disorder is currently wrapping up. The single site study involves 95 randomized participants, says Bogenschutz.
“This will be the largest study in the modern era, so we’re excited to see and publish the results of that trial.”
Building on this research, NYU investigators will conduct a multi-site phase II trial with about 200 participants that is ultimately aimed at submitting an application for FDA approval of psilocybin as a treatment for alcohol use disorder.
Carey Turnbull, a leading philanthropist in the area of psychedelic research, donated $1 million to support the study. Turnbull sits on the boards of two nonprofit organizations dedicated to psychedelic research, the New Mexico based Heffter Research Institute and the Madison, Wisconsin based Usona Institute.
According to Turnbull, the single site study had been in process for years. “They finished the study, and the data is great,” he says.
The multi-site study, which is looking at a number of university campuses for other research locations, appears to be the spearhead of the center’s investigations, says Turnbull. He says most of the donations to the center are presently focused on the upcoming psilocybin and alcohol use disorder trial.
“There’s a lot of collaboration, a lot of economy of scale,” says Turnbull.
Psychedelic therapy for alcohol use disorder has a long history, which goes back decades. Some of the first studies on psychedelic therapies for addiction were conducted in the 1960s. During the 1960s, the focus of addiction research was alcohol, says Turnbull. These early studies on alcohol use are now the foundation for more research on related issues, such as opioid addiction.
“If it works for alcohol use disorder, it could probably work for other substance abuse disorders,”says Turnbull. He adds that the FDA has already considered clinical trials for psilocybin as a treatment for addiction, depression and cluster headaches.
The expanding number of research initiatives for possible FDA approval of psychedelic medicines, the increasing number of nonprofit donors supporting psychedelic research and research centers, and the foundation of existing research on which to build further studies, are all signs that the field of psychedelic medicine is being taken more seriously, says Turnbull. “There’s a sea change in terms of academic acceptance of this,” he says.
Ongoing Research In Psychedelic Therapies
In addition to the alcohol use disorder study, the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine will be a hub for several other ongoing studies, including more research on psilocybin and addiction therapy, says Bogenschutz.
“We are definitely very interested and planning to do some studies in psilocybin [as possible treatment for] other addictions, including opioid and meth addiction,” he says.
Other studies will look at therapies involving additional substances, including cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating ingredient in cannabis. Cannabidiol has received attention for preclinical data from animal models indicating that it may be effective in treating addictions and anxiety disorders, says Bogenschutz. “We’ll be the first trial actually looking at the effects of cannabidiol on alcohol use in humans.”
NYU has also been working with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to investigate MDMA treatments for post traumatic stress disorder, says Bogenschutz. He says the focus of that research is to gather data to support FDA approval of MDMA as a treatment for PTSD.
“One of our priorities is to obtain independent funding to do more work to understand the mechanisms, what the effects in the brain are for MDMA and PTSD,” he adds.
Further studies include animal trials in mice of LSD and BOL-148, a non-psychoactive chemical relative of LSD, for possible anti-addictive properties. Those studies could inform later human trials, says Bogenschutz.
Another prominent ongoing study, sponsored by the Usona Institute, is investigating psilocybin as a possible treatment for major depression. Other psilocybin studies would follow up on research by investigators at John Hopkins and UCLA to treat end-of-life and existential crises in cancer patients, as well as studies in chronic pain, says Bogenschutz. He adds that he is particularly interested in studying ketamine in a psychedelic model.
Ketamine has been shown in studies to have a rapid antidepressant effect and proven effective for treating depression that is resistant to other therapies, says Bogenschutz. Studies could be conducted on combining ketamine treatments with psilocybin treatments.
“The effects of ketamine on depression are quite robust, but they tend not to last very long,” notes Bogenschutz. “The effects of psilocybin persist for much longer.”
Further research is needed in the long-term benefits of psilocybin, but Bogenschutz thinks it is likely the subjective experiences people have in treatments are an important component of the therapeutic effect.
“What happens is that many times the memory of the experience is something that persists very powerfully,” says Bogenschutz. That persistent memory can guide the person to make positive changes, he says.
“There’s the possibility for that change. In the right settings, with the right therapeutic support, people realize those changes they want to make. It looks like these drugs can produce lasting change in a fairly high percentage of the people who are treated for depressive disorder. I think that’s pretty exciting.”
Other donations to the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine include $2 million from Alan Fournier, founder of Pennant Investors LLC, $1 million from Bill Linton, president of the Usona Institute, and $500,000 from Dr. Bronner’s Soaps.
Bogenschutz says there is much to accomplish in the year ahead, from filling the two post-doctoral training positions to launching more studies involving psilocybin, cannabidiol and MDMA. He also wants to see the center get more donations from private foundations, as well as federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“We have a lot more ideas than funding, so we’re still actively seeking funding for a few more of these ideas to get the studies up and running,” says Bogenschutz. “We want to continue to grow.”
Image: David Shankbone