On the heels of MindMed's shareholder 2Q22 shareholder meeting, MedicalGold sat down with Scott Freeman, former CMO of MindMed and a large shareholder of the company, to discuss all things biotech, MindMed, and the future of the psychedelic sector.
MindMed (NASDAQ:MNMD, NEO:MMED) is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing novel products to treat brain health disorders, with a particular focus on psychiatry, addiction, pain and neurology. Our mission is to be the global leader in the development and delivery of treatments that unlock new opportunities to improve patient outcomes. We are developing a pipeline of innovative drug candidates, with and without acute perceptual effects, targeting the serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine systems.
Tell us about your background with MindMed and why you want to be Chief Medical Officer and a board member?
I’m MindMed’s largest shareholder, but I have no official position with the company currently. I started in drug development actually back in high school. As a senior, I did a work study program in High School while living in Brooklyn with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
So, I started there working in the research labs, but also I was always interested in clinical medicine. And so, I was making rounds with physicians and the group I was with in cancer immunology. I was working on drugs like BCG or C-Parvum, which are bacteria that were being injected into patients with tumors to stimulate an immune response.
Those are the early days of cancer immunology and it has come a long way in the last, 50 years. So, I started there and then in college, medical school, and even residency, I continued doing research. As a medical resident, I'd take a call one night, sleep the next night, and go to work in the lab the next night.
And then I received what's called the Physician Scientist Award, which is basically a career development award from the NIH in my last year's residency, and became, basically, on staff first at the University of Minnesota, and then eventually went to the National Institute of Health. That was the late eighties. And I was in a lab. That was French Anderson's lab and I was an investigator on the first gene therapy trial.
So, I've been involved in novel or new emerging therapeutics for a long time. And actually, before that, when I was a resident, I was working in a lab learning molecular genetics and doing some of the early gene sequencing as gene sequencing was being developed.
I've always wanted to be on the cutting edge of new development technologies. And then I went to the NIH, and from there to Tulane as a professor and I was also doing basic clinical research. At that time, I was doing research on ovarian cancer, a gene therapy program, ovarian cancer.
And since then, I'm not sure how much you know about academics and work at universities, but it's hard to do more than a phase one study in academics because of the cost. And so, either you have to go take studies from companies and be in investigative for a company-sponsored study in phase two or phase three, or you have to go to the company and be the one developing the studies.
I thought it'd be more interesting to go to the companies. And I'd never really worked at a company. I wasn't quite sure if I'd like it or not. And so I decided I'd take the leap and went into the pharmaceutical industry after 25 years in academics and doing research.
And so, I was in the pharmaceutical industry and I went to a company called Onyx.
Oh, I remember Onyx. That was a good one.
I was head of clinical development at Onyx. And if you know Onyx, you'd know that they had two drugs, a drug called Nexavar and they had an oncolytic virus.
So, they were very interested in my background because I had this gene therapy background and they were just focused on the oncolytic virus. I went to Onyx and I said, gene therapy's probably not ready yet. But the drug Nexavar was very interesting.. Nexavar looked really good.
And I got there just as Nexavar was going to phase one and took it through phase three, FDA approval for liver and kidney cancer.
And then when it got approved, Onyx really at the time didn't have a pipeline. And so, I left the company and my friends convinced me to do something I never thought I'd do. I took six months off, which was a really good suggestion since you don't get that break when you're working like you do in college for the summer.
.So, it was a great six months. I never wanted to really be a consultant but I thought it was a good way to get into finding my next job.
There's a lot of companies out there, but not a lot of good companies. So, I felt consulting would be a good way to find my next job since as a consultant you work for half a dozen companies a few hours a week.
But right out of the gate, I got a full-time consulting job in New York City. I had left New York in college because it wasn't a very nice place growing up. But around 2007, it was actually a really nice place to live. I said that I'll do this for a while. I was getting paid well. We'll see where this goes.
So, I did that for two and a half years. I was CMO of the company that hired me as a consultant. And then when that job ended, I got another full-time consulting job. And then at the same time I met Steve Hurst and he was a consultant, and we decided to form the company, Savant.
And so we started Savant. As you know, in the really early stages of a biotech company, sometimes you have money, sometimes you don't. So, I continued to consult while I was working at Savant. We started looking at licensing. 'What drug should we license?'
So, we brought in a chemist; Steve knew Bill Boulanger, the chemist at Obiter. And he said, "Hey, we need a chemist to make the drugs. And also a chemist is good because a lot of things cross their desk."
Bill works with a lot of companies so he'll be seeing a lot of drugs. And what we need to do is make a list of drugs that we're interested in and then figure out really quickly why they come off the list, because most things don't work. Right?
And when we get something that we can't take off the list, right, that's the drug we go with. And so Bill was working on 18 MC with Stan Glick who was at Albany Medical Center and Bill was the guy who made 18 MC. So he took, you probably know, ibogaine and modified it to 18 MC, right?
So, he basically made 18 MC from ibogaine and took out the toxicities. 18 MC is non-hallucinogenic, and does not have Ibogaine's cardiac and hypertension side effects.
The thing that intrigued me about ibogaine and 18 MC is that, as you know, ibogaine was scheduled back in the sixties. There's been a lot of offshore clinics and, I guess, a lot of the Hollywood stars go there and...
Yeah Mexico.I really loved the anecdotal data. Even though I'm a scientist who needs things to be randomized and placebo controlled, the anecdotal data seemed really interesting. And I was convinced that it's very likely that ibogaine works.
Again, I don't have strong scientific data, but it was a good bet. And the other thing was that 18 MC is safer. It had less toxicity than Ibogaine in most studies, in addition to the rat models.
So, I'm looking at this. Okay, ibogaine and 18 MC worked well in the same animal models to treat addiction. 18 MC is safer. And I'm somewhat convinced that ibogaine works. So, this seems like a really good thing.
And me and Steve didn't have a whole lot of money to license drugs. So, this seemed like a real diamond in the rough. It was a good bet, basically, and seemed good to treat addiction. It was a little outside of where the pharma industry was, so that there wasn't going to be a lot of competition. We had a little breathing room to develop this.
And so, we decided to do it. We started developing 18 MC, and we brought it into a phase one study. We needed to do toxicology and IND labeling studies, and investors don't like investing in pre-clinical drugs.
So, we got lucky and got an NIH grant that covered our IND enabling toxicology studies. And we had a little money at the end of it and we took it into phase one.
We got into phase one and ran out of money, which is how we started with "psychedelic inspired" medicine because Ibogaine is a psychedelic. We took the psychedelic part out of that one.
So, have you ever tried ibogaine yourself?
No. I don't. I haven't been addicted to drugs, fortunately.
No, I just was wondering if you've ever... Have you taken any other psychedelics?
No comment on that one.
But the other thing with Ibogaine is that it has toxicities. Right? So, one of the advantages I'll get into with things like LSD and psilocybin is that no one's overdosed, physiologically, from those. Right?
There's been reports of kids snorting LSD thinking it was cocaine, taking a thousand times a dose. They're in the ICU, but they recovered. So, the real toxicity for those drugs is, obviously, the mind. Right? you jump in front of a train, jump off a bridge, whatever.
But physiologically, organ toxicity in the liver, kidney, or heart, is extremely limited. It's probably safer than aspirin.
Even with magic mushrooms, psilocybin, people have taken a half pound of magic mushrooms. And, obviously, they trip their brains out for a day or two, but they're still alive and they're fine.
Yeah. I'm referring to the physiological effects. I have to be careful with the FDA reading this and everything else. They're not well-controlled studies.
But if you look, there's been millions of doses of LSD and psilocybin taken. Right?
I mean, I don't know for sure on psilocybin. I know pretty much for sure on LSD that I've not seen a death from an overdose based on an end organ toxicity.
Right. That’s a very important point.
And if you look at Professor Liechti's studies, he's also shown no real significant toxicity other than the mind altering effects, which are significant toxicities. I'm not downplaying them. But from the end organ perspective, it isn't.
So, getting back to trying ibogaine. Ibogaine does have toxicities. Right? So, why do I want to put a drug that I don't need in my body that has, literally, cardiac hypertension? I think there's another toxicity to it. So, ibogaine does have toxicity.
MDMA has significant toxicity and hypertension. It's in the amphetamine class and has amphetamine-like properties. So, the two psychedelics that are fairly safer, psilocybin and LSD.
So, we're back developing 18 MC when two investors came to us. I don't know if you know Jamon Rahn? JR was one of the early investors with Leonard Latchman.
What was happening was that JR is a U.S. citizen, and Leonard is Canadian and a Canadian investor. But cannabis started in Canada. I guess Canada is a little more liberal than the U.S.
Oh, yeah for sure. Canada led the charge in cannabis, and the same is happening with psychedelics.
And so, the company started there and those investors made good money in cannabis. And they were looking for the next wave. And so they were interested in psychedelics.
And then JR came in. And so, we turned Savant, basically, from a private company into a public company, which was Mind Medicine. And then I went in as a CMO to get things started both-
So, what year was that?
That what? That we went public or they came to us?
No, they came to you and you turned it into Mind Medicine?
That was around the summer of 2019.
And then it went public on the Canadian markets. I believe it was March 3rd, 2020. And then it went to the NASDAQ, I believe April 2021.
I went in as a CMO. We had 18 MC, but we didn't have a psychedelic drug. And so, we started looking at the landscape on what we wanted to work on. The first was some chatter amongst the founders about doing psilocybin. And I was thinking there's a lot of competition out there on psilocybin.
And I personally think that LSD's a better drug than psilocybin, although I can't give you scientific data for that. But I believe LSD's a better drug. And I think it was a less crowded field.
But the other thing is that in biotech, investors want to invest in things that are in the clinic. So, we looked around and said, who's working with LSD? And the birthplace of LSD was Basel, Switzerland, and was investigated at University of Basel with Mathias Liechti. And he was doing studies with LSD.
So, JR and I flew over. We talked with him. We all had the same vision. And so, we set up a Center of Excellence so that we were pretty much in the beginning of Mind Medicine, through our collaboration with Professor Liechti, doing clinical studies on LSD from the start.
I think that made it more appealing. Like I said, even psychedelics were hot initially, but we also were rapidly in the clinic, too. Right? So, we had two drugs in the clinic: 18 MC, which was finishing up okay, started finishing up on phase one studies; and LSD through Professor Liechti, who was doing several LSD studies in his own hospital.
Let me pause you for a second here to set some context and ask a question. So, there's a lot of information now available about psychedelics. In the last year, there has been a renaissance where we have two or three Netflix documentaries, an HBO documentary, and Amazon's Psychedelia, which I just watched.
There's a lot of great books out there too, such as "How to Change Your Mind." There's a lot of information available. And there's been several dozen companies that have gone public in the last two years, touting a psychedelics angle. They're all a little different from one another, but kind of all doing the same thing in one way.
So, what is MindMed's edge? And how does MindMed keep the edge?
Good question. So, one, I think the edge there is with LSD. I think LSD's a really good drug. I think it's better than psilocybin, although again, that's just my personal opinion. And there are, I think, a few other companies that work with LSD, but not as many as psilocybin.
The other issue with psilocybin, and let's just say, that they are equivalent drugs. Okay? I can't say they're not, but let's say they are. . I'm not sure of the long term company strategy like Compass, because a lot of what you're doing is defining a dose. Let's say, I think they use 25 milligrams, a dose, for let's say treating depression. And actually, I mean, my brother's an economist and so the free market always wins out.
So, Compass is going to be charging, let's say five grand. You'll get two doses or three doses at, let's say, five grand a dose, maybe. Something like that, two to five grand a dose is probably where my guess is they come out.
And they'll be takers. Right? But the other thing is, as you know, and there are states now legalizing magic mushrooms. And although it's not precise, you probably can say, if I take 10 ounces of whatever the conversion is, of magic mushrooms, I'll get 25 milligrams of psilocybin, and it will cost me a hundred bucks. So, why not?
And as you know, there are clinics building up. I think there's a company. Let me see, I wrote this down.
Numinous Wellness. Right? They're doing magic mushroom extracts. Right?
So, companies are going to set up a bunch of clinics and say, "Come in and get your 25 milligrams." And eventually they'll figure out exactly a more precise dosing. Right?
And you get 25 mil- how many ounces? They'll get a little more controlled way of growing, but I mean the cheapest way is, for 25 cents, go buy some seeds and grow yourself.
Yeah, yeah. You can take it down the road. I'm not recommending any of this. I'm never recommending taking illegal drugs.
My thought was, so when Compass gets their psilocybin formulation approved by the FDA either next year or the year after-
Right, a little more than that, but anyway, yeah.
Yeah. What's going to happen is that, for example, the Armed Forces, the Army, Navy are going to send some of their Veterans with PTSD. The small population size that can get these expensive treatments paid for easily. And it will be psychedelic-assisted therapy.
And in a clinical setting, no doctor is going to be handing over mushrooms. They're going to use the FDA approved pill. Right? So, that's going to be their target market for use in a clinical setting. But, obviously, people that don't have insurance or do not have the government paying for it aren’t going to be able to afford $5,000 per therapeutic session.
Yeah, because it's only a couple of doses, right? And even though, let's say, it costs Compass $100 to make psilocybin, they charge you $10,000.
But again, you have to be able to support the hundreds of millions of dollars that go into it. So, I'm not just saying there's anything wrong with that.
Some of the people suffering from really bad anxiety or PTSD, they're just not going to have $5,000 or $10,000 to spend on this.
No, I agree. So, when you're asking 'what's the advantage?' There are two. One is that I think LSD is a better drug. Two is you can't go out and grow LSD. I mean, it's a synthetic drug.
So, it has to be made in the lab?
It has to be made in the lab. It has to be made by a pharmaceutical company. Yeah, you can say, can people go out and buy it illegally. Could I use the dose convert there? Probably, but I mean, there's a bigger risk than if magic mushrooms are approved in Colorado and there's a clinic that opens up that will give it out.
And I'm not convinced that physicians won't. There are these Compound pharmacies where they make specialized drugs that physicians use, even though they're "not FDA approved."
I'm not touting it, but, apparently, it's legal or the FDA doesn't really enforce it.
Right. So MindMed's number one edge is LSD in your mind. What are some of the other edges?
I think our Center of Excellence with Professor Liechti because he's been in the psychedelic field for two decades now and has a lot of data on many psychedelics, including LSD. It's eventually going to get to the question of what should MindMed be doing and why?
I was looking at the MindMed website, and it looks like he has a study going on of psilocybin in combination with MDMA. So, he has a lot of different angles that he explores. And he's one of the best investigators I've ever worked with in 50 years.
He's extremely smart, he's very efficient, and he does really good studies. I mean, a lot of the studies are randomized studies in small numbers, but he's a very critical investigator. And I think he generates really good data.
So, I think there are potentially more breakthroughs because you're in your Center of Excellence, an academic setting, as opposed to let's say, Compass, which has only an industry setting as far as I understand.
And so, Mind Medicine has both the industry sponsored studies and the academic sponsored studies. I think that's a big advantage to moving to the next step, or identifying where things are going, and getting patents and intellectual property. And Mind Medicine owns a lot of the intellectual property that comes out of the Liechti lab.
Read Part II of the interview >>
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