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Mining from plants and fungi, CNS startup takes leap into psychoactive drugs — complete with $30M to kick things off

A biotech with founders out of Mass General and Harvard is looking to take the next step in the mental health and CNS space, and thanks to investors, the…

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A biotech with founders out of Mass General and Harvard is looking to take the next step in the mental health and CNS space, and thanks to investors, the company has $30 million in new funds to work with.

Sensorium Therapeutics put out word of its launch and subsequent Series A Tuesday morning, looking to work in psychoactive drugs with an emphasis on mental health, such as anxiety and depression. CEO and co-founder Dick Simon tells Endpoints News that the biotech’s approach looks in the same space as psychedelics but not quite psychedelics per se.

“What we’re doing is looking adjacent to that, at psychoactive plants and fungi that humans have been using for centuries or millennia to address a range of mental health and other CNS conditions,” Simon says, and then moving even more into those plants and fungi by creating and utilizing a drug discovery platform to evaluate said plants for potential therapeutic benefit and then deriving — or building — new therapeutics. Essentially, as Simon reiterated, “enhancing what nature was already provided where we already have strong signals of efficacy and safety.”

Part of the reason the biotech is looking at psychoactive drugs instead of psychedelics is the fact that there are not that many psychedelics around — maybe a dozen or so. With psychoactive drugs, there are thousands of potential options.

Stephen Haggarty

Additionally, the biotech has put together a platform it calls the Biodynamic Discovery Platform, or BDP. Scientific co-founder and Harvard neurology professor Stephen Haggarty said that the platform has three core components to it. One is a systemic analysis of what are the natural products that have human experience — i.e, which products have indicators that could be potentially valuable in drug candidate development. That has led to a library of physical plants and fungi that could lead to over 1,000 different opportunities, per Haggarty.

Secondly, the next component of the platform has to do with stem cells. The platform works with neurons grown in a lab to characterize certain natural products and allows Sensorium to “generate really valuable data on the effects of these agents on neuroplasticity,” says Haggarty. And finally, the third component is a machine learning aspect, creating a knowledge graph called a site graph that analyzes relationships between the plants and fungi and generates data about more potential therapeutic uses.

The biotech’s lead candidate that has come out of its platform is SENS-01, a preclinical candidate derived from an undisclosed succulent-type plant and modified for extra performance. Sensorium said that it is developing the candidate as a rapid-acting treatment for patients with anxiety and depression, and plans for the candidate are to enter IND-enabling studies sometime next year and enter the clinic the following year.

Going back to the platform, Haggarty added that one of the key goals is to fully validate Sensorium’s platform. And while one of the ways to validate that platform is for SENS-01 to reach IND studies and Phase I clinical studies, another way is for the platform to nominate a second program.

As for the financing, $30 million gives Sensorium a runway of 18 months, which according to Simon, should be enough to get the company into the clinic.

Investors include lead investor Santé Ventures, with others such as Route 66 Ventures, CU Healthcare Innovation Fund, PaloSanto, Iter Investments, WPSS.bio, Ocama Partners and re.Mind Capital being added on.

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