Peter Thiel backs ATAI’s psychedelics mission in $125 million round

Peter Thiel

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

LONDON — Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel has backed a Berlin start-up aiming to make psychedelic drugs to treat mental health disorders in a $125 million funding round.

ATAI Life Sciences, which describes itself as a drug development platform, was set up to acquire, incubate and develop psychedelics and other drugs that can be used to treat depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental health conditions. The company — founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Christian Angermayer, Florian Brand, Lars Wilde and Srinivas Rao — announced the funding on Monday.

“ATAI’s great virtue is to take mental illness as seriously as we should have been taking all illness all along,” Thiel, who co-founded Palantir and PayPal, said in a statement shared with CNBC. “The company’s most valuable asset is its sense of urgency.”

Thiel made a 10 million euro ($12 million) investment in ATAI through his venture firm, Thiel Capital, while the rest of the series C funding round came from Apeiron Investment Group (Angermayer’s family office), Catalio Capital Management, Future Ventures, Galaxy Investment Partners, Falcon Edge Capital, and Pura Vida.

Total investment in the company now stands at over $210 million.

ATAI, which has roughly 35 staff in offices across Berlin, New York and San Diego, is currently partnered with around 10 drug development companies. In exchange for a majority stake in the drugs they’re developing, ATAI helps the scientists to raise money, work with the regulators, and conduct clinical trials.

None of ATAI’s drugs have been formally approved by regulators to date.

There is growing interest in certain psychedelics after recent clinical studies suggested that some could help patients with a number of mental illnesses, either in combination with traditional solutions or in cases where nothing else has worked.

“The current treatments (for mental health issues) which are out there are definitely not sufficient,” company co-founder Angermayer told CNBC via Zoom ahead of the announcement. “I don’t want to say they don’t work as all because some people are helped by them but they’re not sufficient.”

Almost a billion people suffer from mental health problems worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Of the 322 million people globally that have depression, roughly a third are treatment-resistant, according to fellow company co-founder Brand.

ATAI said it will use the new funding to pay for the clinical development of drugs that ATAI has already backed. This includes ar-ketamine, which is being developed at Perception Neuroscience for treatment-resistant depression, and ibogaine, which is being developed by DemeRx to treat opioid addiction. The funding will also be used to identify new drugs and support their development.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Johnson & Johnson’s ketamine-like nasal spray for depression and there are a number of other start-ups trying to get psychedelic drugs to market including MindMed and Beckley Psytech.

Psychedelic trips

Angermayer said that people “meet themselves” when they have a psychedelic trip. “Since we’re born, society imposes on us how we should

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Millie Boyle backs Kezie Apps and Isabelle Kelly to win fitness race for NSW Blues places

Apps then captained the Dragons to their first NRLW grand final, where they were shut down by an Ali Brigginshaw-led Broncos pack at the end of 2019.

“She’s obviously been around the game for a long time and she’s had such a positive impact on the team and she’s such a natural leader … we will definitely need her,” Boyle said. “I’m hopeful that both of them will be back.”

Last year, Kezie Apps was named NSW skipper and led the side to back-to-back shields at North Sydney Oval. 

Last year, Kezie Apps was named NSW skipper and led the side to back-to-back shields at North Sydney Oval. Credit:Getty

Earlier this month, the Broncos denied the Dragons’ dream of a premiership with a controversial round two performance that saw Kelly and Apps hobbling off the field before the 60 minutes were up.

Patmore would have had his head in his hands after watching his two biggest stars go down during the Broncos’ 18-4 win, which secured their spot in the grand final. Kelly was injured when a hair pull from Amber Hall turned into an awkward tackle from behind that left the star centre clutching her ankle. Apps suffered a medial problem with her right knee in the first half and watched the rest of the game from the bench.

The Broncos went on to beat the Roosters in the decider on Sunday, claiming their third premiership in a row.

Isabelle Kelly on crutches at Bankwest Stadium.

Isabelle Kelly on crutches at Bankwest Stadium.Credit:Getty

“We’ve got a lot of depth in the [NSW] squad and there are a lot of girls stepping up this year throughout the season and they’ve been playing good club footy,” Boyle said. “There is a definitely the depth there to cover for their spots if they’re not able to play.”

The Blues squad will head to Queensland on Friday, where the group will spend two weeks in isolation.

“It’s two-and-a-half weeks by the time we’re finished and that’s a lot of time away for one game,” Boyle said. “It’s a massive ask for a lot of people.”

The players will be restricted to using facilities at the hotel and have received an exemption from the Queensland government to use Sunshine Coast Stadium for training during their isolation.

Like the men’s version, the women’s State of Origin was delayed until after the season due to COVID-19. The women’s State of Origin will take place on November 13.

“It’s great to now have Origin after the NRLW because you can really see how everyone’s performed, it will just be picked up a level this year,” Boyle said. “Both squads are getting stronger so it’s just more competition.”

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EMA Panel Backs Peanut Allergy Desensitizing Powder Palforzia

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA’s) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) recommended on October 15 that marketing authorization be granted for Palforzia (Aimmune Therapeutics). The product is intended for desensitizing children and adolescents to peanut allergy.

Palforzia will be available as an oral powder in capsules (0.5, 1, 10, 20, and 100 mg) and as oral powder in sachet (300 mg). The active substance is defatted powder of Arachis hypogaea.

Through use of the product, children with a peanut allergy receive controlled exposure to precise, increasing amounts of peanut protein, mixed with soft food, every day. Over time, this may help to decrease their sensitivity to small amounts of peanuts.

According to the press release from the EMA, Palforzia can mitigate accidental exposure to small amounts of peanut protein. “[A] single dose of a least 1 gram of peanut protein would cause no more than mild allergy symptoms,” the EMA said.

The treatment is indicated for patients aged 4 to 17 years who have received a confirmed diagnosis of peanut allergy. Treatment may be continued for patients aged 18 years or older, according to the press release.

It should be administered under the supervision of a healthcare provider qualified in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic diseases and should be used in conjunction with a peanut-avoidant diet, the EMA notes.

The most common side effects that have been reported are abdominal pain, throat irritation, itch, nausea, vomiting, urticaria, and upper abdominal discomfort.

The next step in the approval process is to obtain market authorization from the European Commission. Detailed recommendations for use will be described in the summary of product characteristics, which will be published in the European public assessment report and will be made available throughout Europe.

“We are encouraged by the CHMP opinion, which recommends Palforzia as the first and only treatment option in the European Union for patients with peanut allergy and their families,” Andrew Oxtoby, president and chief executive officer of Aimmune Therapeutics, said in a statement. “Today’s decision underscores the strong and compelling data from our Palforzia clinical trials and follows the US FDA approval of Palforzia earlier this year. We look forward to the European Commission’s final decision for the marketing approval of Palforzia, which we expect later this year.”

The FDA said in granting its approval that patients, parents, or caregivers must be counseled on the need for always-available injectable epinephrine, the need for continued peanut avoidance, and on how to recognize signs of anaphylaxis.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune and and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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Traditional Chinese medicine maker soars after top respiratory expert backs drug in potentially inhibiting coronavirus

a pile of food: Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical’s medicine made from Banlangen was found to be effective against the coronavirus in a series of in-vitro studies. Photo: Baidu

Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical’s medicine made from Banlangen was found to be effective against the coronavirus in a series of in-vitro studies. Photo: Baidu

Shares of a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) company jumped after receiving validation from the nation’s top respiratory expert on its drug’s effect against the coronavirus, joining two other peers that have enjoyed huge gains this year.

Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical Holdings soared 13 per cent to HK$21.75 in Hong Kong and by 10 per cent to 34.18 yuan in Shanghai on Friday, after Zhong Nanshan, the public face of China’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, said one of its products could potentially inhibit the coronavirus.

Researchers led by Zhong found that Banlangen granules, a herbal medicine popular in China for treating common cold and flu, was effective against the virus in a series of in-vitro studies, Chinese newspaper Nanfang Daily quoted him as saying during a conference on Tuesday in Guangzhou. The drug was also widely used in the country during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Investors latched on to the hype surrounding the company even though the studies were still at an early stage and Zhong did not disclose whether or when any research paper or preclinical data will be published. The stock’s advance in Hong Kong marked its biggest daily jump since October 2018, while turnover ballooned 24 times to HK$240 million (US$31 million) from Thursday, according to Refinitiv data.

Zhong Nanshan smiling for the camera: Chinese respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan said that one of Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical's products could potentially inhibit the coronavirus. Photo: Xinhua

© Provided by South China Morning Post
Chinese respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan said that one of Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical’s products could potentially inhibit the coronavirus. Photo: Xinhua

Many pointed to the speculative nature of the surge on Friday. “In-vitro studies data is usually the weakest among preclinical data,” wrote Huang Jianping, general manager at asset management firm Shanghai Leader Capital, in a post published on online stocks forum Xueqiu.

Normally, pharmaceutical companies have to go through three phases of clinical trials on humans to establish the efficacy of the drugs, on top of evidence from animal experiments, he said. “If a Nasdaq-listed company said their drug was found to inhibit the virus in in-vitro studies, the company would be despised by the market.”

China relied heavily on traditional medicine to combat the virus earlier this year. Despite the government’s efforts to promote the use of such herbal remedies abroad, experts have warned that there is not enough evidence from clinical trials to establish their effectiveness.

Why it’s so hard for China to promote the use of traditional remedies abroad to treat Covid-19

And this is not the first time Zhong’s comments have contributed to a drug maker’s fortunes. Two Shenzhen-listed TCM companies, Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical and Tianjin Chase Sun Pharmaceutical, reaped huge profits this year, after their drugs were included in the national standard therapy for Covid-19 patients and were recommended by Zhong.

Shares of Shijiazhuang Yiling have risen 94 per cent since a March

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