Natural medicines have helped millions of people all over the world and hold great promise for new developments ahead. But, if there is any downside to the rise of psilocybin-based treatments, it is the fact that you can’t patent nature.

You can patent a drug formulation, or a unique, new type of medicine, but not something that’s the result of a natural process. And, for investors, that difference matters. A lot. 

Based in Copenhagen, Lophora is a biotechnology company that is working to change that, identifying and patenting a new class of proprietary ligands that has a similar pharmacological profile as psilocybin. With funding from the BioInnovation Institute (a Novo Nordisk Foundation Initiative), the company hopes to begin in-human trials by early 2022. 

We recently spoke with CEO Bo Tandrup to learn more about Lophora’s unique molecule and what its measured approach to the market could mean for the future of psychedelic drug development. 

Psychedelic Invest: So, Lophora is really a company that started in the lab, is that right? 

Bo Tandrup: Well, the company is based on the science that our co-founder and CSO Professor Jesper Kristensen and his team from University of Copenhagen have been working on for some 15 years. It was a combination of excellent science and serendipity that brought us to the stage where we are now. Jesper’s team basically developed a new chemical entity which has a different molecular scaffold from psilocybin but has the same ability to trigger biological responses via the serotonin 2A receptor with the difference being that the new molecule is selective.  

So, whereas psilocybin is a broad agonist that affects multiple receptors, this molecule that Jesper’s team developed primarily activates the serotonin 2A receptor.  

With this knowledge, the team decided to explore whether it was possible to patent their new discovery. And it was during this process that they reached out to me with my business skills and asked me to help them build a company. I have established a few businesses before and it was vital to me to maintain control of the company, so we founded it with our own money and acquired the rights to the invention from University of Copenhagen. Subsequently, we have been able to raise primarily non-dilutive capital. 

So far, we have raised just around US$2 million as grants and convertible loans. (Note: Lophora is a Danish legal entity so all of its fundraising is based on the Danish kroner. Fluctuations in the exchange rate impact its USD value.) 

US$2 million is not a lot. But remember that behind this company and behind our asset lies almost 15 years of world-class science done by the founding team and the inventors. Primarily on PET-ligands (i.e. a functional imaging technique using radioactive ligands to produce a three-dimensional image of processes in the body). And during those years they raised around US$3 million in grants. I’m just saying that because, as an investor, you should not forget that we didn’t start from scratch. Lophora is based on an invention that was done while the team was working in the university.  

PI: And the company itself was formed in 2018? 

BT: We incorporated the company in September 2018 and we have just filed for our European and U.S. patents last month. 

PI: Let’s talk about the market for this compound and what makes it unique. 

BT: I think the best way to explain it is that we’ve all seen what COMPASS Pathways has done with psilocybin. And that’s pretty convincing data they’ve got there. And they started out with treatment resistant depression. But, as most other scientists working in this field, I think that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can be used for other indications as well. 

What we’ve got is a unique molecule with a different molecular scaffold which can be patented. And we own any and all rights to that molecule. That means that, from an investor’s perspective, you can invest into something which can be protected. And you can’t protect psilocybin. That’s one thing.  

But the other thing that is just as important is that our molecule is – at least theoretically, because we’re still in the preclinical phase and we still have to show this in clinical studies – superior to psilocybin because it is so highly selective to the receptor that we are targeting. Some clinical data indicates that the serotonin 2B receptor is associated with cardiovascular side effects. So, theoretically we’ve got a molecule which is safer because we can specifically target 2A without touching 2B. Whether this has any clinical relevance obviously remains to be proven, but theoretically it is so. 

Basically, we are different from most other companies in the field because we’re able to patent our molecule and because it is selective. But we also believe that the time duration of the mind manifesting experience (the “trip”) is going to be shorter with our molecule than with psilocybin. We think that this is a benefit when actually treating people with psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy because it makes it easier to administer and monitor without spending too many hours in the clinic. 

PI: How far out are you from commercialization and testing right now? 

BT: We are in the process of completing the preclinical development in order to take our molecule into first in human trials in early 2022. We are working on CMC and the clinical protocol and have no plans to sell the company. Yet.  

PI: How big of a market is there for a protected molecule like this? 

BT: I am reluctant to start guessing on market size. All I can say is that the market for a unique, patented drug molecule in an extremely exciting field is clearly very big. We have an extraordinary team, convincing data, a patent pending and the necessary resources. So, we just crack on. And since we already have a lead candidate, the drug development process we are facing is pretty much standard. 

Lophora is based on solid, world-class science and stands out compared to most of the other companies in the psychedelics field. Now, the future will show the value of this uncut diamond. But, we are obviously pretty excited.

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