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New Company Using A.I. to Discover Mental Health Drugs

Artificial intelligence graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

11 Nov. 2019. A new enterprise combining resources from biotechnology and artificial intelligence aims to find safer and more effective treatments for psychiatric disorders. The company called Entheogenix Biosciences Inc., incorporated in the U.S., is a joint venture of ATAI Life Sciences AG in Berlin and Cyclica Inc. in Toronto, but no funding nor personnel were disclosed for the company.

Entheogenix Biosciences plans to discover new small-molecule, or low molecular weight, therapies for complex psychiatric diseases such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, including drugs based on psychedelic compounds. The company’s founders in ATAI Life Sciences and Cyclica say current therapies with individual drugs are inconsistent or do not adequately treat the disorder, often leaving physicians to prescribe multiple drugs, which can lead to adverse effects or low medication adherence.

ATAI Life Sciences offers a biotechnology platform that the company says addresses the complexity of treating mental health. Founded last year, ATAI acts as a framework company for individual enterprises developing new therapies addressing specific mental health targets. Among the company’s proposed solutions are psychedelic drugs, many of which are considered dangerous or controlled substances by law enforcement authorities, yet are beginning to receive serious consideration as a basis for psychiatric therapies. While only about a year old, ATAI Life Sciences so far raised $68 million in two full venture funding rounds, according to Crunchbase.

Cyclica applies computational biology and biophysics to drug discovery to assess the total effects of proposed treatments on the body, not just the prime targets. The company’s Ligand Design service starts with what the company calls seed molecules, then designs more complex molecules with artificial intelligence to achieve specific chemical interactions in the body, as well as reflect desired ADMET — for absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity — properties.  Cyclica’s Ligand Express is a complementary cloud-based service that screens small molecule compounds against a large simulated protein repository with artificial intelligence routines to visualize and predict multiple interactions in the body.

Entheogenix Biosciences expects to apply Cyclica’s technology to discover new treatments for psychiatric disorders. The new company plans to start with a number of seed molecules from existing small molecule compounds, as well as psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and mescaline. The aim is to synthesize new compounds that work faster to address debilitating psychiatric diseases, but without hallucinogenic side effects associated with psychedelic drugs.

“Entheogenix will use state-of-the-art technology to identify the most promising candidates for drug development quickly and precisely,” says ATAI Life Sciences CEO Florian Brand in a joint statement. “We are especially passionate,” adds Naheed Kurji, CEO of Cyclica, “about advancing health outcomes for patients suffering with the most complex and prevalent disorders like depression, which is the leading cause of disability worldwide.”

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