That title has an ironic ring to it, doesn’t it? Psychedelics once sparked one of the biggest movements of peace that this world has ever known. They inspired compassion and oneness in millions of people. Today, the race to profit off of patents and intellectual property has turned psychedelic headlines into the pharmaceutical feuds that psychedelic biotech and its leaders were meant to overcome. Controversy over patents for psychedelic compounds has been at the forefront of discussions this year. Biotech companies are racing to bring drugs to market that will change the face of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction treatment. People disagree on who should have the legal rights to psychedelic compounds, but those rights lie with whoever created them.
Several companies have recently dealt with legal issues regarding patents and intellectual property. These two things are what biotech companies need to turn a profit for investors, and the fight for them has become ferocious. Patents are important to ensure that companies have exclusive rights to the work that they’ve put millions of dollars into. Though, a patent doesn’t automatically mean that the drug will be successful. The first psychedelic biotech companies only started popping up a few years ago. Many of them are in the stage of securing their first patents on the drug research and development that they have done so far, which is why this issue is so prevalent right now. This is new territory that we are entering. Psychedelics have been around for hundreds of years, but not in this capacity. Thus, an argument about what exactly constitutes a novel compound has arisen.
The first scent of this issue came about in December of last year when a non-profit organization (Freedom To Operate) filed a petition against Compass Pathway’s synthetic psilocybin compound. The claim is one that we hear from many long-time psychedelic activists who don’t want big companies coming in and laying claim to compounds that the psychedelic community has been using underground for decades. The contestation of this patent left many in the psychedelic biotech space nervous about the safety of their patents. Ultimately it was decided that the patent would stand, and that seems to be the consensus on the law side of things. The company successfully argued that COMP 360, the compound in question, was in fact novel.
The issue arose as part of a movement that is similar to one that we saw when cannabis became recreational in many states. The people that were making significant amounts of money on cannabis were not the people who had been part of the culture during its prohibition. The new laws did not benefit those who had risked their freedom for the plant. Many people feel that the same is happening with psychedelics. Those who are going to make millions of dollars off of psychedelics are going to be the ones with already deep pockets. Psychedelics differ from cannabis because the legal market is going to be focused on medical and pharmaceutical instead of recreational use. It takes millions of dollars of cash burn before companies, like Compass, can turn a profit on their drug research and development. These companies answer to their shareholders, not the people who have fought for decades to break the stigmas that prevented psychedelic biotech companies from existing.
Activists are arguing for the recognition of their dangerous work to bring psychedelic treatment to light. Biotech companies are arguing to protect their investments so that they can bring psychedelic treatments to market. The problem is– they’re both right.
In states like Oregon and Colorado, where we are seeing legislation on psilocybin use, the people pushing the laws through are taking great care to ensure that psychedelic plants remain in the hands of the people. There are restrictions on who can have a financial interest in treatment centers and how much they can have. Biotech companies, on the other hand, are a slave to the pharmaceutical structure. Their focus must be to push their drugs through to market and offer returns for their investors. Without patents, anyone could profit from their work. Psychedelic biotech companies should hold the rights to their work. The work that these companies are doing to get psychedelic treatment approved by the FDA is crucial for the growth of the industry as a whole. They are just as important as the people who have been working with psychedelics for the past 50 years. There is a disconnect between these two sides. They should be working together to build a future with psychedelic medicine as a mainstream treatment. Unfortunately, some companies are taking the fight for control of intellectual property a bit too far– according to recent legal filings.
Compass Pathways Comp 360 patent held up in court, but they may be going back to fight allegations of stealing trade secrets. Terran Biosciences Inc. is suing the company for patenting a combination of psilocybin and a 5-HT2A that they allegedly stole from a researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Terran has a licensing agreement with the university for all psilocybin trade secrets. This issue calls into the ethics of one of the biggest publicly traded psychedelic biotech companies.
MindMed is another big company that has had the ethics and competency of management called into question. They are amid a management VS investors war over the handling of their intellectual property. If you want to know more about it, you can check out our very own Adam Tubero’s diligent work on the subject.
The psychedelic industry holds the power to change millions of lives for the better. The medicines that biotech companies are developing may take the place of drugs, like SSRIs and benzodiazepines, which offer little benefit and major side effects. This every man for himself mentality is staining the reputation of companies that are meant to be creating compassionate healthcare.
Is there a future where companies and researchers can work together to change healthcare for the better, instead of clawing at each other’s throats? The psychedelic industry is fighting an uphill battle against social stigmas and strict regulations. Fighting amongst each other is a waste of time and energy that would be better spent getting life-changing treatments in the hands of the people who need them.