Rising rates of depression amid the coronavirus pandemic underscore the need for innovations in mental health care, like psychedelics, according to George Goldsmith, CEO, chairman, and co‑founder of mental health company COMPASS Pathways.
"About 322 million people suffer from depression around the world — and that was before this current pandemic — but about 100 million of those just aren't helped by current treatment," Goldsmith told Cheddar. "So we really focused a lot on, 'how do we bring innovation to patients?'"
COMPASS Pathways is a United Kingdom-based biotech startup, researching a synthetic form of the psychedelic compound, psilocybin, for treatment resistant depression. Its drug, called COMP360, received "breakthrough therapy designation" from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2018, meaning there was evidence it could substantially improve treatment over existing therapies and could move more quickly through drug development.
"We're working closely with regulators in every country that we're working with to develop clinical trials, and if those clinical trials are successful, then those medicines will be made available to patients," Goldsmith said.
The time is right for innovations in mental health care. Stressors related to the coronavirus pandemic may have tripled rates of depression across the U.S., according to a survey published in JAMA Network Open in early September. Some 27.8 percent of adults reported experiencing depression symptoms amid the pandemic, compared with 8.5 percent previously, according to the survey results. And the burden fell disproportionately on people who had limited financial or social resources.
"A single experience, a single dose of psilocybin for many people, can create an immediate and sustained benefit for people suffering with depression. And that really intrigued us," Goldsmith said.
COMPASS Pathways debuted on Nasdaq in September in a $146.6 million upsized initial public offering. It's move kicked off a flurry of interest from other psychedelic health and wellness companies looking to go public or uplist for similar access to liquidity and investors. Goldsmith said that for COMPASS Pathways, the move was motivated by expenses associated with the research the company is doing in nine countries.
"We're committed to really addressing mental health care at scale, and capital, shareholder capital, really helps with that," Goldsmith said.