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HMNC: pioneering precision medicine for psychiatric care

HMNC Brain Health is aiming to shift the treatment approach in the psychiatric industry through the utilisation of precision medicine and compounds such as ketamine.



HMNC: pioneering precision medicine for psychiatric care

With the “one-size-fits-all” approach being the norm in the psychiatric industry, HMNC Brain Health is aiming to shake this up through targeted and personalised therapies powered by predictive diagnostics. 

Current mental healthcare treatment currently leaves a lot to be desired for some people, with an approximate 100 million people living with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) across the globe. In light of this, HMNC Brain Health wants to bring personalised care into mental health to meet this high, unmet need.

Professor Florian Holdboer worked for 30 years at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry before founding HMNC in 2010.

The company is aiming to innovate mental health care through the development of specific treatments with increased efficacy and reduced side effects, and will be harnessing genomics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop them.

Earlier this year HMNC embarked on a joint venture with Develco Pharma to create the company Ketabon – a project developing a prolonged-release oral ketamine formulation for TRD.

A 30-year history in psychiatry

With Holdboer’s understanding of the link between mental health and genetics, he developed a very comprehensive asset portfolio comprising three compounds, treating both major depressive disorder as well as treatment-resistant disorder.

He also developed proprietary molecular diagnostic tests to identify those patients who would respond to treatments.

“Holdboer started to talk about precision medicine in mental health long before this became the standard in oncology,” said CEO, Benedikt Von Braunmuhl, speaking to Psychedelic Health.

“He was interested in how to treat depression and mental health disorders by selecting the right drugs for the right patients. His philosophy is that one-size-fits-all does not work, and mental health over the last few decades has not seen a lot of innovation. 

“There’s a high unmet medical need. A third of depression patients are treatment-resistant, which means that they are not responding to two consecutive treatments and this was exactly what his frustration was around. He tried to identify approaches to resolve that.”

Developing innovative treatments for unmet needs

HMNC’s ketamine programme has an investigator-initiated study ongoing at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and the company hopes to see results soon.

Chief clinical development officer, Hans Eriksson, said: “We are developing targeted therapies for depressed people. We have three different clinical programmes in our portfolio right now which are all focused on depression. They are based on a selection of patients. 

“Two of these projects use genetic tests to select patients, and one of them is using more standard tests to select patients for treatment resistance. The Ketabon programme is built around ketamine, which has been around for many years as a dissociative anaesthetic. It has had lots of interest focused on its use at lower doses as an antidepressant. 

“There is no doubt that ketamine is an efficacious antidepressant but it has been difficult to get rid of the dissociative side effects that many patients experience as less pleasant. Those side effects plus the tendency towards a transient blood pressure increase has really affected the labels that regulators have applied to esketamine around the world, with the need for medical supervision.

See also  Ketamine and esketamine show no adverse cognitive effects

“We believe that we have the opportunity to maintain the good efficacy of ketamine but to decrease the tolerability issue. We are trying to do this by the use of an oral sustained release formulation that releases ketamine into the blood at a much lower rate than we see with the nasal spray and with the IV formulations.”

The compound has already been tested in both Phase I and Phase II studies in pain patients, which have indicated a good tolerability profile and no associated side effects or blood pressure increases. 

“Our aspiration is to bring the principle of ketamine to depressed patients, but without the tolerability issues,” added Eriksson.

“I’ve always been frustrated when I’ve seen the very wide variability of clinical presentations of depression, and everyone is diagnosed as having major depressive disorder. It seems so reasonable that there are different biologies at play here. Our absolute intention is to try to find these biologies and find specific interventions for them.”

Pioneering psychiatric care with precision medicine and ketamine

Current drugs in psychiatric care utilise mechanisms that were explored in the 50s, all developed with broad populations in mind. Some people respond well to these medications, but for those that don’t, it can be difficult to find hope in available care. 

HMNC’s two other projects centre around the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenals axis (HPA axis), an important physiological mechanism in the human body. The HPA axis is often referred to as the stress access – as these organs are involved in the way the brain signals to the adrenals to produce the human stress hormone cortisol.

The company has now developed a compound – BH-200 – which specifically targets the dysfunction of the axis which it will use alongside a biomarker test. This type of testing is currently standard in areas such as oncology, for example, however, the development has yet to be utilised for mental health care. 

“As clinicians, we have never had the tools to find the patients who would respond exceedingly well. That means that we have had to fall into a sort of trial and error practice. If we could shortcut this and actually find the right medication at the earlier point in time, it will be very helpful for patients and also for society, because we will be able to get to the root of the disorder much faster,” said Eriksson.

“I think the wealth of data with ketamine is impressive. We believe that by using this oral ketamine, with a slow buildup of concentration, we will be able to reap the benefits of the antidepressant ketamine without having the problems. 

See also  What do recent ketamine findings mean for depression treatment?

“There has been a tremendous change in medical and psychiatric drug development over the last five to seven years. These medications that, at one point in time, were frowned upon and seen only as drugs of abuse are now being explored. It is a real Renaissance for more advanced psychopharmacology. I think this is probably the second golden age in psychopharmacology.”

Braunmuhl added: “That’s why I was so excited to join HMNC – when I saw this approach at the company and met the team I realised that this is the first company to do this in mental health.

“Everyone has a relationship to someone with a mental health disorder or even depression, and the stigma is becoming less problematic. People are talking about it more and realising that we have a solution.

“I think mental health will become the most important disease. For example, in 2030 depression is set to become be the most prevalent disease in the world, surpassing cancer. There is also the socio-economic impact of mental health disorders as a whole. If you look at the last few years, solutions are becoming more and more targeted and personalised.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for all of us here to contribute to the solution.”

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Is connection key? How clinicians impact patient outcomes in psychedelic therapy



A wealth of research is showing how psychedelic-assisted therapy holds promise for the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression, but what role does the therapist play in a patient’s outcome? A new study has suggested it may be a big one.

Psychedelics have piqued huge interest due to their effects on the brain. Research points to their ability to induce neuroplasticity in the brain as one of the key reasons they may help with conditions such as depression and anxiety.

However, set – the individual’s (or patient’s) mental state – and setting – the individual’s environment during a psychedelic experience – are hugely impactful on the outcome of these experiences.

In the traditional use of psychedelic medicines, shamans help to guide set and setting throughout the experience with singing, drumming and ritual. Today, in scientific research, trials, and in clinics, the clinician is essentially playing this role.

Senior author of a new study, Alan Davis, associate professor and director of the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education in The Ohio State University College of Social Work, has highlighted that the impact of clinicians on patient outcomes is not new, with research consistently showing that a trusting relationship between patients and clinicians has been key to better outcomes. This concept is known as a “therapeutic alliance”.

Understanding the therapeutic alliance

To find out more about the impact of this therapeutic alliance in psychedelic therapy, researchers from Ohio State University College of Medicine analysed data from a clinical trial that investigated psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD).

In the trial, participants received two doses of psilocybin and 11 hours of psychotherapy, completing a therapeutic alliance questionnaire afterward, which assessed the strength of the therapist-participant relationship.

Participants also completed questionnaires about any mystical and psychologically insightful experiences they had during the drug treatment sessions. In psychedelic research, the mystical experience has often been shown to be related to the continuing positive effects of this therapy.

The Ohio team looked at the depression outcomes alongside patient reports about their experiences with the medicines as well as their connection with their therapists.

They found that a stronger relationship between patient and clinician led to a better clinical outcome for the patient – with improved depression scores up to 12 months following the experience.

Lead author Adam Levin, a psychiatry and behavioral health resident at Ohio State University College of Medicine, stated: “What persisted the most was the connection between the therapeutic alliance and long-term outcomes, which indicates the importance of a strong relationship.”

Analysis results revealed that over time, the alliance score increased, and in fact demonstrated more acute mystical experiences for the patient. The team also found that acute effects were linked to lower depression four weeks following treatment, but were not associated with better depression outcomes a year after the trial.

“The mystical experience, which is something that is most often reported as related to outcome, was not related to the depression scores at 12 months,” Davis stated.

“We’re not saying this means acute effects aren’t important – psychological insight was still predictive of improvement in the long term. But this does start to situate the importance and meaning of the therapeutic alliance alongside these more well-established effects that people talk about.”

According to the team, the analysis showed that a stronger relationship during the final therapy preparation session predicted a more mystical and psychologically insightful experience – which in turn was linked to further strengthening the therapeutic alliance.

“That’s why I think the relationship has been shown to be impactful in this analysis – because, really, the whole intervention is designed for us to establish the trust and rapport that’s needed for someone to go into an alternative consciousness safely,” Davis stated.

“This isn’t a case where we should try to fit psychedelics into the existing psychiatric paradigm – I think the paradigm should expand to include what we’re learning from psychedelics,” Levin added.

“Our concern is that any effort to minimise therapeutic support could lead to safety concerns or adverse events. And what we showed in this study is evidence for the importance of the alliance in not just preventing those types of events, but also in optimizing therapeutic outcomes.”

The authors emphasised that efforts to minimise negative experiences in future studies of psychedelics is vital, and that therapy is critical to creating a supportive environment for patients.

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Phase 2a trial to investigate 5-MeO-DMT candidate for alcohol use disorder



Beckley Psytech and Clerkenwell Health are collaborating on a Phase 2a trial investigating Beckley’s synthetic 5-MeO-DMT candidate combined with psychological support as a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

AUD is estimated to affect around 237 million people across the globe and over 7.5 million people in the UK.

Treatment options for the harmful use of alcohol are not always effective – there are high relapse rates and there are around three million deaths each year attributed to the substance’s misuse.

Increasing research is showing that psychedelics may hold promise as innovative treatments for addiction, including substances such as ketamine and psilocybin.

See also  How psychedelics could help those living with alcohol use disorders

BPL-003 is Beckley Psytech’s short-duration and fast-acting synthetic formulation of 5-MeO-DMT – a psychedelic found in several plant species and the glands of at least one toad species – which is administered intranasally via an FDA-approved delivery device.

The compound has shown in Phase I data to be well-tolerated with a reproducible and dose-linear pharmacokinetic profile.

The Phase 2a trial

Beckley and Clerkenwell have confirmed that the collaborative Phase 2a open-label trial will evaluate the safety, tolerability and pharmacodynamic effects of a single dose of Beckley BPL-003 combined with abstinence-oriented psychological support in participants with AUD.

Currently taking place at King’s College London, Clerkenwell Health’s clinic near Harley Street, London, will provide an additional trial site.

According to Beckley, BPL-003 has been successful in eliciting psychedelic experiences of “similar intensity but shorter duration than psilocybin”.

Dr Henry Fisher, Chief Scientific Officer at Clerkenwell Health, stated: “An estimated 600,000 people are dependent on alcohol in England. This, coupled with an alarming increase in alcohol-related deaths of 89% over the past 20 years, shows the status quo isn’t working.

“Conventional treatments for alcohol dependency aren’t producing meaningful improvements and new avenues must be explored. This trial will assess whether psychedelic-assisted treatment can be an effective therapy for alcohol use disorder, with the hope of rolling out the treatment widely.

“Health professionals and policymakers should seriously consider such treatments, which could be genuinely ground-breaking for the NHS and for the hundreds of thousands of people being treated for alcohol use disorder in the UK.”

Beckley Psytech and Clerkenwell have emphasised that the results of the trial may be used to provide support for further study of psychedelic-assisted treatment for alcohol dependency.

Dr Rob Conley, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at Beckley Psytech, added: “We’re committed to developing a transformative and effective treatment option for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder.

“Based on our preclinical and Phase I data, we are optimistic about the potential therapeutic benefits of BPL-003 for substance use disorders and we are excited to evaluate the compound further in this clinical trial.

“I want to extend my thanks to the team at Clerkenwell Health and King’s, as well as to the patients who have joined, and will join, this study. Their participation, support and collaboration are absolutely critical to furthering research into this area of huge unmet need.”

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The Entourage Effect in Mushrooms: Natural psilocybin may outperform synthetic



The Entourage Effect in Mushrooms: Natural psilocybin may outperform synthetic

A new study from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center has indicated that natural psilocybin extracts may demonstrate superior efficacy to synthetic psilocybin extracts.

Recent years have seen a boom in research into psilocybin for the treatment of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Many of the clinical trials investigating psilocybin use synthetic extracts rather than natural ones. This is because synthetic extracts will contain psilocybin alone, whereas natural psilocybe mushroom extracts will contain several different compounds such as psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin and norbaeocystin.

Having multiple compounds can pose a challenge when running clinical trials as identifying which compounds are active and what their impact is becomes difficult to measure, and the concentrations of these compounds can vary depending on factors such as growth conditions and processing techniques.

This makes the standardisation of multi-compound medicines a huge challenge, as medicine consistency, reproducibility and dosing become difficult. However, these are essential factors when it comes to conducting clinical trials and receiving approval for medicines from regulators.

The Entourage Effect

In 2011 Dr Ethan Russo put forward the theory of the Entourage Effect in cannabis. 

The cannabis plant contains over 400 different cannabinoids that have so far been identified, such as THC, CBD, CBN and CBG.

Russo hypothesised that these different cannabinoid compounds work synergistically to create a therapeutic effect, as opposed to compounds such as THC or CBD working in isolation.

This hypothesis has been touched on only a few times in the scientific literature in relation to psychedelic mushrooms.

For example, in Dr Jochen Gartz’s 1989 paper ‘Biotransformation of tryptamine derivatives in mycelial cultures of Psilocybe’ which proposed a synergistic relationship between compounds in the mushrooms, and a 2015 paper by Zhuck et al, ‘Research on Acute Toxicity and the Behavioral Effects of Methanolic Extract from Psilocybin Mushrooms and Psilocin in Mice’, which observed that the effect of psychedelic mushroom extracts on mice was much stronger than pure psilocybin.

There has been very limited research on this hypothesis in mushrooms since. 

A new study: Natural may outperform synthetic

Now, a research team from Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center BrainLabs Center for the Psychedelic Research have compared a natural psilocybin extract to a chemically synthesised version.

Published in Molecular Psychiatry, results from the study indicate that the natural extract increased the levels of synaptic proteins associated with neuroplasticity in key brain regions, including the frontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and striatum.

The ability of psilocybin to induce neuralplasticity has been indicated as one of the key features that contribute to its therapeutic effects.

The researchers suggest that these new study results indicate that nautral psilocybin extracts may offer unique therapeutic effects that may not be not achievable with synthesised, single-compound psilocybin alone. 

Metabolomic analyses also revealed that the natural extract exhibited a distinct metabolic profile associated with oxidative stress and energy production pathways.

The researchers write: “In Western medicine, there has historically been a preference for isolating active compounds rather than utilising extracts, primarily for the sake of gaining better control over dosages and anticipating known effects during treatment. The challenge with working with extracts lay in the inability, in the past, to consistently produce the exact product with a consistent compound profile. 

“Contrastingly, ancient medicinal practices, particularly those attributing therapeutic benefits to psychedelic medicine, embraced the use of extracts or entire products, such as consuming the entire mushroom. Although Western medicine has long recognised the “entourage” effect associated with whole extracts, the significance of this approach has gained recent prominence.”

However, compared to cannabis, the researchers suggest that mushroom extracts present a unique case, as they are highly influenced by their growing environment such as substrate, light exposure temperature and more.

“Despite these influences, controlled cultivation allows for the taming of mushrooms, enabling the production of a replicable extract,” the team writes.

The researchers emphasise that this research underscores the superiority of extracts with diverse compounds, and also highlights the feasibility of incorporating them into Western medicine due to the controlled nature of mushroom cultivation.

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Psychedelic Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. We do not provide medical advice or promote the personal use of psychedelic compounds. Please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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