Mental illness, PTSD, addiction, Alzheimer’s, these ailments combined reach the majority of people either through personal experience or through loved ones and relatives. One biotech startup based in Tampa, Florida said the Covid-19 pandemic is to blame for an associate mental health pandemic but also to thank for the increase of acceptance towards alternative medicines for mental health issues such as these.
Psilera Bioscience received $2.5 million from Florida venture capital firm, Iter Investments. Psilera is reimagining natural psychedelic substances as possible answers to the global mental health crisis. Like other similar startups, Psilera recognizes the historical use of natural medicines in ancient cultures and how 20th century legislation has favored modern pharmaceutical options over them.
CEO, Chris Witowski shared, “Current treatments for those illnesses aren’t very effective. Psychedelics haven’t been explored as an option since the 1970s. We now have the tools to see how the drugs function in the brain, and analyze if they’re actually working.
These tools, for Psilera, come from the University of South Florida which was approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration in February to research psychedelics. Psilera operates, with nearly 70 other startups, as part of USF Connect’s incubation program which allows for use of research equipment, students and faculty.
Both co-founders of Psilera, Witowski and Jackie von Salm hold doctoral degrees in natural products chemistry from USF.
Iter Investments obviously sees value in this research with a portfolio that boasts 7 global psychedelics-focused companies including Psilera. “I see them as a leading company in the psychedelics ecosystem, right in our neighborhood. It was an amazing opportunity to operate within Florida,” said managing partner Dustin Robinson.
Psilera’s current focus is on delivery systems for drugs such as psilocybin including a nasal gel and a transdermal patch. These methods are highly regarded as the use of needles could be problematic in combination with addiction, anxiety, and trauma but also because it would lessen the creation of biohazardous waste.
Witoswski simplifies the science between psychedelic therapy in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. He explains the theory of eroding and rebuilding neural pathways to strengthen connections in the brain. “It’s like if you’re out on a sled. You slide down one day and then follow that same path because it’s already laid. It’s just easier because you don’t have to go through fresh snow.”
The neural pathways of a patient with a mental illness or neurological disorder can cause them to be stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts or dangerous habits because those pathways have been strengthened over time. “Psychedelics lay down a fresh layer of snow,” he said. “Now you don’t have the same trodden path. It disrupts that introspective voice you have, and this creates an opportunity for clinicians.”
The team at Psilera believes, in combination with talk therapy, the use of psychedelic therapies could relieve patients of traumatic triggers in a wide range of mental disorders.