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By Verne Kopytoff
December 8, 2017

High-profile Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel made a bet last year on a company with an unusual idea for treating depression: psychedelics. Giving patients drugs that are based on the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, known for their hallucinogenic properties, could help reboot the brains of people who suffer from mental illness and who are otherwise resistant to treatment.

That company, Compass Pathways, said on Wednesday that it plans to start clinical trials of its drug starting in the first three months of 2018. The tests, to be conducted in partnership with Worldwide Clinical Trials, will be conducted in a number of European countries including Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

“We need a new approach to tackling mental health,” George Goldsmith, executive chairman and co-founder of Compass Pathways, said in a statement. “Current treatments for depression work for many people but there is still a significant unmet need for a large number of patients living with this very challenging condition.”

Thiel’s investment fund is among several backing Compass Pathways, a U.K. startup that was founded in 2015. The stake in line with Thiel’s iconoclastic investment philosophy, which has paid off handsomely with huge gains on early investments in companies like Airbnb and Facebook.

Thiel’s unusual projects include one in which he advocated that high school students forego college so they could work on startups. Additionally, he and mused about creating floating tech cities on cruise ships moored in international waters off the U.S. coastline.

Psychedelics like psilocybin, the ingredient found in 200 varieties of mushrooms, are gaining some acceptance in the medical world for treating depression. Early studies have shown some success, although doctors warn against people with mental illness self-medicating with mushrooms bought through illicit means.

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