Is Silicon Valley Replacing Big Pharma In Neuroscience?

Is Silicon Valley Replacing Big Pharma In Neuroscience?

The following post was written and/or published as a collaboration between Benzinga’s in-house sponsored content team and a financial partner of Benzinga.

Over the past decade, big pharma has largely stepped away from the research and development of psychiatric drugs. This came after what was a fruitful period for the pharmaceutical industry during the 1990s and early 2000s. This renaissance was caused largely in part to the release of Eli Lilly And Co’s LLY Prozac, an antidepressant, in 1988.  

This SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) was seen as a major development in the field of neuroscience. Although since then, many major pharmaceutical companies have either devoted fewer resources to neurological research or have cut spending altogether. The industry has seen this with companies such as Pfizer Inc. PFE, Amgen, Inc. AMGN, AstraZeneca plc AZN, Eli & Lily and Merck & Co., Inc. MRK, among others. 

The difficulty to bring psychotropic drugs to market, problems with testing, and the high cost of development have all contributed to the decline in psychiatric drug programs.

But perhaps the most significant factor has been the competition from generic drugs. As generic drugs came on the market, big-name pharmaceutical companies took a substantial loss to their previous profits.

Yet, while interest from big pharma in psychiatric drugs has largely diminished, the field of neuroscience has seen recent interest from none other than Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Takeover

At last year’s Y Combinator demo day event, Silicon Valley made what could be considered its debut into the world of psychiatric research. Y Combinator is an annual Silicon Valley VC convention that has resulted in more than a dozen unicorns. The event is notoriously exclusive with an acceptance rate of roughly 1.5% for presenting companies.

Given the low acceptance rate, it came as a notable surprise when two psychedelics companies — Osmind and Gilgamesh — presented at the Y Combinator event back in August.

Osmind is a mental health startup working to provide software solutions to pharmaceutical companies that will assist with making access to innovative treatments more readily available.

In a profile conducted by Techcrunch, the co-founders of Osmind stated that the goal for their company is to help provide patients with access to innovative mental health treatments through the use of software and services, “that will make the provision of care, and proof of the efficacy of treatment, more readily available.”

Gilgamesh, the second psychedelic company that presented, is a pharmaceutical company that utilizes psychedelic medicine for the treatment of neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. 

The intersection being made between technology and neuroscience is helping to accelerate research and is changing the way researchers approach mental health and therapeutic treatments.

Mind Cure Health Inc MCURF MCUR is a mental health and wellness company that is actively pursuing this current intersection between neuroscience and technology. The company’s approach covers neuroscience and psychedelic research as well as digital therapeutics technology.

MINDCURE has created a path to near-term revenues in psychedelics through their inclusion of digital therapeutics and bioinformatics technology, as well as, investments in clinics. Their two platforms, iSTRYM™ (digital therapeutics platform) and Psycollage (bioinformatics technology platform) are helping to inform drug development and create better mental health and pain treatments.

iSTRYM™ is a mental health patient lifecycle platform that utilizes A.I. analysis and patient data to generate new insights. The platform connects researchers, clinics, therapists and individuals to achieve better treatment results. 

Psycollage utilizes bioinformatics to help drive decision-making for drug lead optimization. The platform, which recently completed its beta testing, has helped the company identify migraines, cluster headaches, traumatic brain injury, and neuropathic pain as priority indications.

“We have conducted extensive research and interviewed industry stakeholders from researchers to therapists, patients to those who want to optimize their mental health and we have confirmed the gap in care and identified how technology will help to not only improve drug research and development but get better treatment outcomes,” said Kelsey Ramsden, CEO of MINDCURE. “The market opportunity is great with over 1500 ketamine clinics in the U.S.  alone and over 50,000 therapy practices who can benefit from our technology.”

In other notable news, Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel invested in mental health care company Compass Pathways CMPS prior to the company filing for its IPO in August 2020. The company currently has a market cap of $1.43 billion. Another Peter Thiel investment, ATAI Life Sciences, is set to IPO this year and is currently valued at about $2 billion. 

The Need For Alternative Treatments

Some researchers estimate that over roughly the past decade, research programs from big pharma in larger drug firms have decreased by about 70%. The field of neuroscience is seeing big pharma step away at a time when mental health is arguably more important to focus on than ever.

According to data collected in The 2021 State Of Mental Health In America Report, the number of people seeking help for anxiety and depression has increased significantly. From January to September 2020, the total number of people who took an anxiety screen increased by 93% from the previous year. And during the same time period, the total number of people who took a depression screen increased by a total of 62%.

With the increasing number of people seeking help for anxiety and depression, the need for additional research in the field of neurology is vital. According to co-founders of Osmind Jimmy Qian and Lucia Huang, “There are 11 million Americans that are resistant to most mental health therapies.”

And with major pharmaceutical companies dedicating fewer resources to neurological research, it will be interesting to see how the emergence of interest from Silicon Valley and the inclusion of digital technologies will affect the future of pharmaceutical research in this area.

“When I have seen Silicon Valley enter markets as early adopters in the past, I have witnessed the support of financial and cultural resources moving novel industries quickly. This support for neurological research in psychedelics tells me both that people are ready to see new alternatives to treatment and its early days in the industry,” said Ramsden.

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

The preceding post was written and/or published as a collaboration between Benzinga’s in-house sponsored content team and a financial partner of Benzinga. Although the piece is not and should not be construed as editorial content, the sponsored content team works to ensure that any and all information contained within is true and accurate to the best of their knowledge and research. This content is for informational purposes only and not intended to be investing advice.

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