Psychedelic medicine today is in many ways a niche industry. And as with many niche industries looking to break into mainstream treatment and provide real benefits to consumers, there is a real risk of the cost of production pricing out all but the most affluent consumers. 

Founded in 2018 in Chicago, Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) wants to see a different future for psychedelic medicine, one where treatment is not only cost-effective and sustainable but also accessible to those who need it most. Their labs are already working to make that environment possible. 

We recently took a virtual tour of the Algae Sciences lab with CEO Leonard Lerer. Our conversation below is the product of that tour. 

Psychedelic Invest: Can you tell me more about how you got into psychedelics?

Leonard Lerer: We’ve come to the psychedelics space very differently than most people, in that we were not interested in psychedelics at first. We found ourselves interested in psychedelics as a natural evolution from where we began.

We were producing algae-based biostimulants and testing it in mycelia for food growth in mushrooms. My colleagues had an interest in psychedelics so we started to test on the growth side as well. We discovered we had good results and from there we incorporated psychedelics into one of our divisions. 

Although we are a very small startup, we’re proud of what we’re doing, especially on the science side of it. We are probably one of the first fully vertically integrated companies in the psychedelic space, even though we are so small.

PI: What does your pilot production process include?

LL: At the core of our work are several patents, and our technology relates to the extraction of proteins from algae. Right now we’re focused on the sustainable production of food colorants and alternative proteins. We have a natural blue food coloring that comes from Spirulina. We’re also doing some work on the sustainable production side working with anaerobic digestate as a medium to grow mycelia.

PI: Tell us more about that. 

LL: The idea is to get the whole production of alternative proteins and mycelia for psychedelic treatment done in a zero-waste, sustainable circular economy. 

Our commitment is very much focused on sustainability. When I explain what we’re doing with our various projects I always touch on environmental protection, sustainability, the circular economy, because it truly is central to everything we do. 

PI: Where do psychedelics fit into the picture?

LL:  We are committed to becoming a major player in cell-based entheogens, be they mycelial, plant or amphibian-based. We are in the process of applying for the relevant regulatory approvals. But the bare bones activity that we’re doing in psychedelics is essentially biostimulation. That’s how we got into psychedelics in the first place and it’s what we do best, produce natural entheogens and research their potential applications.

PI: So your team is trying to meet in the middle between synthesis and growing? What’s the benefit of growing versus synthesis and bringing the two together?

LL: It’s all about cost versus effect. When I say synthesis in the context of other companies, I’m talking about genetically modified cells. People growing the natural product get the full entourage effect, the full spectrum, but it’s expensive to grow. 

On the other hand, it’s cheaper to  chemically synthesize the active, but you can’t get the full entourage effect without driving up the cost of the project.

What we’re doing is sitting at the sweet spot right in the middle. For us, biosynthesis (cell-based production) means an active ingredient that is totally natural, not genetically modified, that has the entourage effect, and is cheaper to make. This makes biosynthesis incredibly competitive with chemical synthesis at the moment, since you can get that higher yield and still get the entourage effect. 

PI: What other applications could this have?

LL: It doesn’t just relate to mycelia. It relates to plant and animal cell cultures, too. We have succeeded in doing some of the animal and plant work with machines that are automated cell culture systems. We’re about to install a bank of them and are prepared to demonstrate the feasibility of large scale upscaling of this process.

PI: Let’s circle back to the Algae Sciences story. How do you see the company contributing to the psychedelic space?

LL: We’re an algae-based industrial biotechnology company focused on sustainable ingredients, food, agriculture, and wellness. We believe that we can make a huge contribution to the psychedelic space by dealing with the intractable problems the space faces right now. 

One of the problems in psychedelics is this whole paradigm of psychedelics assisted psychotherapy, which is fine, but it’s not going to be accessible to millions and millions of people. What we’re doing is research and development to make entheogen-based medicines accessible to millions.

That‘s the work of our principal scientific advisor, Professor Bernard Lerer, who is one of the founders of biological psychiatry and is a famous name in neuro-psychiatry. He runs one of the most important labs working on pre-clinical models of psychiatric conditions. We believe that we will be able to identify and produce the natural extracts that address these conditions including PTSD, depression, OCD and addiction. 

In other words, you can do the job without people tripping?

We also think we will be able to extend this to other areas. For example, people are starting to look at prophylaxis with sophisticated neuroimaging. In other words, the prevention of PTSD. Say you go into an emergency room after you’ve had an accident. You get antibiotics, antacids etc.  but maybe people should be getting psychedelics in small doses to allow them to process the trauma. 

We have a clear story to date. We funded all this work ourselves including all the analytical chemistry. We believe that we are a contributor. We do believe we are a little bit out of the conventional paradigm. One contribution that we could make is to ensure better supply of high quality psychedelics for clinical trials and we are contemplating supplying medical investigators doing registered clinical trials with active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) free of charge, when we have our relevant licenses and approvals. 

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