Ben Lightburn is a proven entrepreneur and leader specializing in the research, development and commercialization of novel extraction technologies. He co-founded Filament Health in order to help bring safe, natural psychedelic medicines into the hands of those who need it most.
What first got you excited about psychedelics?
I’ve spent most of my career as an entrepreneur researching, developing, and commercializing novel extraction technologies. I think these technologies are powerful because they can be applied to an immense range of natural compounds, many of which have profound effects on human health and optimization. Helping people in these areas has always motivated me. I’ve closely followed developments in the field of psychedelics for years, and as they have continually proven efficacious for many challenging conditions, it was only “natural” to get excited about the prospect of applying my expertise in botanical extraction technologies to such a dynamic and high-potential arena.
What is Filament Health working on?
We’ve recently hit major milestones receiving our Health Canada Dealer’s License and GMP manufacturing status, advancing our IP filings and announcing our first clinical trial drug candidates. With this foundation in place, we are ready to expedite and expand our drug development efforts and execute strategic partnerships to advance the field of natural psychedelics.
On the drug discovery side, we are currently propagating psychoactive mushrooms, conducting genetic research and manufacturing compounds with the unique ability to distribute IP and drug candidates to drug developers, researchers, and other licensed parties in the future.
We have partnered with the Translational Psychedelic Research (“TrPR”) Program at the University of California, San Francisco (“UCSF”) to progress our drug development efforts. TrPR’s Director, Dr. Joshua Woolley, will act as Principal Investigator, to lead our unique, patent-protected drug candidates through two U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) investigator-initiated clinical trials, both expected to begin in 2021. The first trial has already been approved by the Institutional Review Board at UCSF.
This operational foundation we’ve built, and experienced, poises us well for our public listing on Canada’s NEO Exchange. This is an important acceleration period for our group as we’ve intentionally operated in somewhat of a stealth mode until now and we are excited to bring Filament to the world in a meaningful way, advancing the field of psychedelic medicine
Why is Filament focused on naturally derived psychedelics, as opposed to synthesized forms?
Filament believes that nature has done the hard work of perfecting plant species over thousands of years. In the nascent yet burgeoning psychedelics industry, we believe there is an unsettling trend: the vast majority of resources and attention are being devoted to synthetically-prepared versions of what were originally naturally-derived compounds.
For example, there are over 100 known psychedelic plants and over 100 known species of mushrooms with psychoactive properties representing a vast number of yet-to-be studied psychedelic compounds,
We believe extracting, purifying, and standardizing natural compounds, without harmful synthetic chemicals or residues, is the best way to bring this vast untapped drug discovery potential of to the world.
One of our team’s core competencies is creating consistent and crucially, safe, extracts. We achieve this through our novel, IP-protected extraction, purification, and standardization processes which can be applied to the entire range of psychoactive plant and fungi species.
Can you explain what the entourage effect is?
The entourage effect describes the presence of multiple compounds in an extract outside of the primary active ingredient. Because human receptor sites are not universally standardized and identical, it’s possible that a combination of natural compounds could have a greater effect, fewer side effects and/or a shorter onset period compared to a single compound preparation.
Taking the well-known example of magic mushrooms, most people think immediately of psilocybin, and for the more well-versed, of psilocin, as the active compound(s). While these compounds are found in abundance in most species, there are myriad additional active components contained within fungal matter, and both anecdotal and clinical evidence suggests that the presence of these other compounds yields synergistic effects.
Across the range of plant and fungi species, we have barely scratched the surface of understanding the potential of these secondary compounds, and I wholeheartedly believe they deserve to be studied further. I won’t be so bold as to profess we’ll prove the entourage effect, but we strongly believe that natural extracts provide the best avenue to progress our understanding of this area.
Which of the psychedelics that you are working with have the most promising therapeutic potential?
Filament’s three leading drug candidates, PEX010, PEX020, and PEX030, are proprietary, naturally-extracted mushroom formulations. The existing body of knowledge and clinical data that supports these compounds is robust, so from an evidence-based perspective, these candidates have a head start in terms of showing efficacy in clinical populations.
The platform we’ve built will allow us to rapidly investigate a wide range of other natural psychedelic compounds. We’re eager to shine a light on the therapeutic potential of compounds that have not yet been widely studied.
What steps is Filament taking to protect their intellectual property, especially utilizing naturally derived psychedelics?
IP as related to naturally-derived psychedelics is distinct from what we see with synthetic variants, which have nearly unlimited forms and methods. Meaning that, while an individual polymorphic form of a synthetic molecule can be covered by patent protection, the many other nearly identical forms cannot be.
With naturally-derived psychedelics, there are only a limited number of feasible extraction and purification methods. Filament’s pending patent families cover the novel extraction and purification processes we’ve developed, as well as standardization, formulation and delivery methods.
How will a Health Canada Dealer’s license help advance the mission of Filament Health?
Our license increases our efficiency and agility. Under its terms, we are able to propagate, extract, produce, distribute, and sell. This means that our entire process is streamlined, with everything from R&D to manufacturing taking place under the close supervision of our team of experts. Our propagation and cultivation research program, which is also conducted out of the same facility, allows us to identify the best strains and genetics for continual optimization, which can then be seamlessly integrated into the rest of our supply chain.
Our current Health Canada license is valid for psilocybin, while we await the forthcoming approval of an amendment to grant the same terms across all controlled natural psychedelics.
Which current studies are you most excited about and why?
In partnership with the TrPR psychedelic research program at UCSF, we are initiating two separate FDA investigator-initiated clinical trials in partnership. Dr. Woolley and his team at TrPR have been invaluable partners in designing and implementing clinical studies that feature a never-before studied compound and the most rigorous trial design employed to date
Can you talk about your in-house GMP manufacturing? What will that allow you to do?
Having GMP manufacturing in addition to our Dealer’s License streamlines our entire process, with nothing outsourced. We are nimble in making changes and upgrades throughout our supply chain because we manufacture products in the same place that we propagate, research, and develop them.
We will, of course, supply extracts to further our own commercial clinical trials, but our GMP status allows us to distribute drug candidates that are manufactured at the highest standards to third party drug developers, researchers, and other licensed parties. We will also pursue third party partnerships to license our extraction IP.
Can you talk about any partnerships you’ve established and how they will benefit Filament?
Filament has developed several partnerships that we believe will be fundamental to our growth. In particular, we’re delighted about our partnership with the TrPR Program, led by Dr. Joshua Woolley at UCSF. Dr. Woolley and the entire team at TrPR, and at UCSF, are doing outstanding work to advance the field of psychedelic research. We are confident that our drug discovery efforts are in good hands and are eager to see what insights our current and future studies might contribute to the industry overall.
What is the most common misconception you hear about psychedelics?
First and foremost: that natural psychedelics are not a viable option for widespread adoption. That they are too expensive, too hard to standardize, not GMP, not FDA-approved. While there may be an element of truth in some of these things, over a decade of producing GMP grade extracts has taught me that not only are they a viable option - they are a great option.
What do you believe is the most important thing for people to understand about the future of psychedelics as medicine?
Probably, that psychedelics as medicine can grant individuals in need with a new option, with the power of choice. These will be psychedelics as we’ve never seen them before. They will be manufactured to the highest standards, optimized, and precisely dosed. They will be administered in safe and controlled environments, with trained professionals, and without the stigma (and risk) that accompanies a substance that is classified as “controlled.” The benefits of psychedelics have been well-documented over thousands of years, and we’ll soon have the opportunity to understand more about their transformative potential.