More than just a trip – the longevity potential of psychedelics

Terran Biosciences founder on longevity-psychedelic crossovers, targeting neurodegeneration and making history.

Terran Biosciences, a CNS-focused biotech platform company, is developing transformative therapeutics and technologies for patients with neurological and psychiatric diseases. As well as targeting schizophrenia, Terran’s novel drug Idazoxan (which it has licensed from Pierre Fabre, and for which it holds the global development and commercialization rights) can be used to treat Alzheimer’s and also comes as an extended-release version that enables once-daily dosing. A treatment for Parkinson’s psychosis is also in the pipeline.

Longevity.Technology: Terran has had a busy year; with an exclusive licensing deal with French pharma Pierre Fabre, the first cohort dosed in human clinical trial of its novel lead compound Idazoxan and a suite of IP publications all in the bag, Terran certainly isn’t short of news for its festive round robin.

Terran has one of the largest psychedelic development programs in the industry, and is leveraging psychedelics with a long history of human use, including psilocybin, LSD and MDMA. It’s no wonder, then, that that Terran had a significant presence at Wonderland earlier this year, and during the event, we were lucky enough to sit down with Terran’s founder and CEO, Sam Clark, MD PhD.

Sam Clark on…

Psychedelic power

We have a number of compounds that have a direct application in the longevity space, including psychedelics. For us, longevity means treating neurodegenerative disorders and healthy aging – that doesn’t mean our compounds will necessarily make you live longer, or make you live forever, but we believe that as you age, our compounds will help to stop some of the neurodegeneration that occurs with aging.

According to some studies, as we age, the brain shrinks at a shockingly rapid rate. Some reports indicate this shrinkage is as much as 5% every decade after the age of 40 – and that’s independent of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or any other neurodegenerative disease. The brain is just shrinking, and to address that we looked to psychedelics – in psychedelics we saw compounds that were really exciting for their neuroregenerative capabilities.

The longevity-psychedelic crossover that we’re working on is a compound that originated out of a number of academic studies. Terran was already very interested in psychedelics because of their neuroregenerative capabilities as well as their therapeutic capabilities; for example, we saw studies showing psychedelics had therapeutic potential – they could act as rapid antidepressants and work on other mental health disorders – and they had neuroregenerative potential. Psychedelics were able to help adult neurogenesis, which is the growth and regrowth of neurons in the adult brain, and they could help reopen critical windows of synaptic plasticity that are thought to not occur after infancy. So we were very excited!

Not going on a trip

To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a study of a psychedelic in Alzheimer’s disease, yet, but the hope is that because some of these psychedelics may be able to regrow the brain in humans, potentially, areas of the brain where there has been an amount of damage or lost may be able to experience regrowth through taking a psychedelic. But the big breakthrough is that in taking the psychedelic combined with a serotonin 2A blocker means you can have the medication without the associated trip. This could bring the medication to elderly patients and to patients worldwide, and could potentially be a take-at-home medicine.

Psychedelics – without the trip – can be both therapeutic and preventive. And the same thing for Idazoxan; with the potential to help Alzheimer’s, you’d take it to start treating the disease, but the animal models show that if you take it early, it has a great preventative effect. So this could be an option for people at risk of Alzheimer’s, or with a family history of the disease.

Spotting neurodegeneration from the cloud

This leads to our next big program; we are the first people in history to bring the aging biomarker neuromelanin to an FDA-cleared product. We have just received FDA clearance to bring our neuromelanin imaging system to market, meaning people can get neuromelanin scans as they age to provide adjunctive information to help clinicians assess the health of the brain.

Neuromelanin is a breakdown product of dopamine, and as you age, you build up neuromelanin in different parts of your brain. While levels have been investigated in numerous studies, with some doctors recommending regular neuromelanin scans, there had been no way to fully standardize the measurement, and so obtain FDA clearance. Columbia University figured out a way and we licensed the technology from them and built a fully-deployable cloud-based system that can work with any hospital and remotely analyze MRIs for neuromelanin and return results within 30 minutes. It has been cleared by the FDA for adjunctive use and that’s a major win for patients.