Psychedelics research institute launches in Australia

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(Hiroshi Watanabe/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Hiroshi Watanabe/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Clinical trials Preclinical contract research preclinical development Drug development mental illness

The Psychae Institute, established by a global team of scientists, will conduct pre-clinical and clinical research around psychedelic medicine development.

A team of researchers from around the globe have collaborated to launch what reportedly is the world’s first research institute focused on developing psychedelic therapies for mental health disorders and other conditions. Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, the Psychae Institute will involve research contributed by scientists from the University of Toronto, King’s College London, the University of Zurich, and the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil.

The institute also will feature involvement from a number of Australia-based collaborators, from institutions like Swinburne University, the University of Melbourne, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and the NICM Health Research Institute (Sydney), and Agriculture Victoria Research.

Psychae Institute co-director and professor Jerome Sarris said, "There is such a high prevalence of mental health disorders globally, with one in five Americans and 800 million globally suffering with a mental illness. The research we undertake will give new hope and more options to these people​.”

Psychae Institute co-director and associate professor Daniel Perkins said, "It's an exciting time for research into psychedelics, with a growing body of rigorous scientific evidence indicating that these substances may provide a potent new class of treatments for mental health disorders and possibly other medical conditions​.”

Perkins also pointed out people with mental health conditions are increasingly aware of and interested in such treatments.

"Today, many people with mental health conditions are becoming aware of this research and in desperation are accessing black market psilocybin or flying to countries like Peru to use ayahuasca in non-clinical settings,​” he said. "The significant opportunity for us at Psychae Institute is to meaningfully increase the scientific and clinical evidence supporting the safe use of these compounds as therapies to eventually achieve drug registration with global regulators including the US Food and Drug Administration​."

According to the organization, the not-for-profit institute will work toward the advancement of pre-clinical and clinical studies of psychedelics including products inspired by ayahuasca (a South American psychoactive plant medicine combination). Researchers also plan to explore a range of emerging treatments for mental health disorders, including ones that leverage psilocybin, MDMA, and other psychoactive substances.

While today's pharmaceutical and psychological treatments for such disorders have shown some success, the need for more advanced therapies with fewer side effects remains unmet. Mental illness was estimated to cost the world economy approximately $2.5t US per year in 2020, and recent studies have shown early signs that mental health will decline further due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One goal of Psychae Institute's research is to develop novel pharmaceutical-grade psychedelic medicines and accompanying psychotherapeutic treatment models as registered medical treatments that can become an additional treatment option within mainstream health services. Its scientists also reportedly will investigate the use of advanced technologies to enhance therapeutic effects.

While the institute will be based in Melbourne, the team plans to oversee clinical studies with partners at various other sites in Australia, the UK, Canada, Europe, and Brazil. The organization plans to start its work this year with local pharmaceutical manufacturers, with the anticipated start of clinical studies in early 2022.

The research program will be supported by a planned investment of at least $40m Australian (about $29.6m USD) over the next five years from a North American biotechnology company. Future sources of funding are expected to include government, grants, philanthropic donations, and private investment.

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