For years, the mental health landscape has broadly been static and lacked advances in meaningful treatment methods. But now, scientists have new hope in the least likely of places: psychedelic drugs. Recent research suggests that certain psychedelic substances can help relieve anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction and the fear surrounding a terminal diagnosis.
Psychedelic medicines are having a renaissance as the convergence of technology and psychedelics evolves. Recent studies by John Hopkins Medicine researchers suggest certain psychedelics can help in therapeutic settings to treat depression, addiction, anxiety and the existential fear of death in cancer patients.
With over a decade of experience in the financial industry and preparing founders and their businesses for listing on the capital markets, Justin Hanka of MindBio Therapeutics has shared some insights into the psychedelics industry and pointed out several essential aspects shaping the future of investments in mental health. He shared his views with Techcouver on how the psychedelic revolution is helping overcome challenges in the global mental health crisis.
What was the idea behind Mindbio’s mission and pathways to new mental health treatments? Can you share that story with us?
JH: We have known for centuries that psychedelic compounds have a profound effect on the brain, our cognition, our thinking and our mood but it has not been until recently that we have started to properly understand the science behind it. What we now know is that in both microdosing and microdosing treatment models, neurogenesis occurs (essentially new connections between neurons in the brain and the growth of new dendrites) as a result of ingesting these substances (LSD and psilocybin) and this is very exciting for the scientific work that we are doing in patients with mental health conditions.
It is a substantial change from the available treatment options and essentially, the potential treatment outcomes are akin to rewiring the brain and establishing new neural pathways for better mental health and positive maintainable behavioural changes. The prospect of these new treatments and a chance to change the lives of sufferers of these debilitating conditions due to our advancing scientific knowledge is what excited us the most about creating MindBio.
What do you think makes MinBio stand out in this fast-growing psychedelics space? Can you share a story?
JH: What is truly unique about MindBio is 3 main things: Firstly, We are conducting human clinical trials using a sub-perceptual “Microdosing” treatment regimen rather than microdoses where hallucinogenic experiences are part of treatment. Secondly, LSD is our candidate drug in a microdosing protocol and LSD is not being commonly studied in human clinical trials, certainly not as extensively as psilocybin. Finally, the data MindBio is collecting will be used in AI and machine learning models to accurately predict treatment outcomes for patients entering microdosing treatments based on a whole series of psychometric and biometric features that are individual to each patient. This is exciting because patients can be targeted based on their profile for more effective and refined treatment.
What are the latest trends in the Psychedelics Industry?
JH: There are several trends, namely around drug development, clinics and technology. For example, the drug development centres and their incredibly innovative research to create novel analogues that can be patented like any other drug. Another example is the emergence of clinic settings that provide an effective treatment option for sufferers of mental health conditions, where traditional antidepressants and other medications might have failed. The technology is exciting and varied. It ranges from Augmented Reality (AR) devices that purport to replicate a psychedelic experience to wearable technology to assess and track a patient’s journey through their psychedelic treatment regimen.
In your opinion, what are the most critical barriers for the Psychedelics industry to overcome to tap into its real potential?
JH: The main issue is that the need for better mental health treatments is urgent, yet the drug development, regulatory approvals and clinical trials process can be slow. Various initiatives are happening worldwide to get quicker access to these drugs through special access schemes and exemptions, allowing patients desperate to access these scheduled and prohibited drugs.
MindBio is pioneering research into psychedelic medicine that provides hope for mental health sufferers. What makes psychedelic-inspired drugs different from traditional medicine in the market?
JH: Psychedelic drugs work differently on the brain in that they promote neurogenesis (new neural connectivity and the growth of new dendrites in the brain) and that is exciting for mental health sufferers because the patient is in an ideal mood state based on those structural changes going on in the brain. This helps patients to open up to assisted psychotherapies while working on issues in psychotherapy that they would otherwise not be capable of. This is particularly the case where mental health issues arise as a result of traumatic events in a patient’s life that are difficult to discuss.
Over the past decade and especially in the past couple of years, there has been a paradigm shift in the economy, largely due to healthcare technology. Could you tell us a little about the intersection of Health Tech and Psychedelic Medicine?
JH: There is a good crossover between the two because our latest technology is allowing us to see the brain and the body and to understand what is going on better than we ever have before. Diagnostic technology and wearables for instance are allowing psychedelic researchers to track a patient’s biological state during psychedelic drug treatments and that is very exciting for the advancement of clinical work.
Recently Blackhawk announced that you would be joining the investment firm as Director and Chairman of the Board of directors. Would you be able to tell us about this move?
JH: Yes, I have been appointed to the board of directors as Chairman at Blackhawk Growth Corp (CSE:BLR). Blackhawk is a listed investment issuer on the CSE in Canada and it has the special status of being able to invest in, incubate and then spin out assets into stock exchanges in North America. That is exactly what we plan to do with MindBio, to spin it out of Blackhawk. Blackhawk acquired 100 per cent of MindBio in September 2021 with this spinout process as part of its investment strategy. It is terrific for Blackhawk shareholders because current shareholders and even new investors right up to the record date prior to listing of MindBio, hopefully some time in August, will receive a 1:1 shareholding in MindBio.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy. What are the main elements of effective leadership and success in new Biotech companies?
JH: You have to have a clear articulation of your investment thesis and how the medical solution can scale and achieve revenue if successful. It is a long process to get new medical treatments approved and it requires a large amount of funding to get through human clinical trials. So, you need a talented team of scientists, advisors and investors to help lead these types of biotech companies through to commercialization.
You are a successful business leader with influence. If you could start a movement to impact the world positively, which area would you focus on?
JH: It’s simple for me, I want to change the course of mental health treatments to have a positive impact on the lives of people suffering from debilitating mental health conditions.