Dr. Jill Hagel, Chief Technology Officer | MagicMed Industries

February 5, 2021
Spotlight

Before joining MagicMed Industries, Dr. Jillian Hagel previously held COO and Vice President roles in the biotechnology industry. She focuses on science team coordination and patent filings. Dr. Hagel will lead the Science team’s laser focus on delivering partner milestones.

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What got you personally excited about psychedelics?

Although poorly understood, mental illness is very common – it’s estimated approximately 50% of Canadians over the age of 40 have, or have had, a mental illness. It’s also highly personal, as those suffering from mental illness often face social stigmas not associated with so-called ‘physical problems.’  What excites me about psychedelics is that they offer something entirely new. Most available psychiatric treatments have been on the market for a long time; for example, tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) were discovered in the 1950s, and SSRIs such as Prozac™ were launched in the 1980s. Not much has happened since these major launches, limiting treatment options for the most debilitating, difficult-to-treat disorders. Ironically, the scientific community has known about the potential of psychedelics as mental health treatments for a long time, but only now do we have the “green light” to explore them as serious pharmaceuticals.

What unique problem is MagicMed solving for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that want to pursue psychedelic medicines? 

Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials are underway for the natural psychedelic psilocybin, with other natural medicines such as mescaline not far behind. I’ve worked in the natural products field for decades, where it’s understood that while natural products are often themselves effective, they generally represent “first-generation” drugs and go on to inspire an array of new pharmaceuticals. Take opiates as an example: natural, plant-based drugs like morphine and codeine are important medicines, but they inspired a big toolkit of essential derivatives including hydrocodone, oxycodone, and opiate addiction treatments like Narcan™ and Subutex™. MagicMed expects the same from psychedelics – we’re using the chemical structures of psilocybin, mescaline and others to inspire a library of new derivatives. And we’re using cutting-edge science to make these derivatives, which expands the chemistry of what’s possible.

What unique advantages does MagicMed have over its competitors in being able to create new drugs?

MagicMed is taking the unique approach of fusing chemistry, biochemistry, and synthetic biology to make new derivatives based on the scaffolds of natural psychedelics. Past efforts to make derivatives have been largely restricted to chemistry methods. Although chemistry is powerful, it is limited in what it can feasibly achieve, both scientifically and economically. Take for example the cold/allergy treatment pseudoephedrine whose global supply relies on a combination of yeast-based bioconversion and chemistry. Chemistry alone can create this drug, but it’s more economically feasible to do it through a combined “biochemistry-chemistry” process. Many drugs are too complex for chemistry to synthesize at economically feasible scales – biology is needed to cut production costs. Examples include opiates, many antimalarials, and anticancer drugs like taxanes. So, MagicMed’s approach is not new…but we are thus far unique in applying a combined approach to psychedelics.

Can you talk about your partnership with the University of Calgary to create your innovative Psybrary™? In simple terms, what is it and how does it work?

MagicMed’s partnership with the University of Calgary has been key to building out a library of derivatives based on the natural “tryptamine” scaffolds of psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and we are now expanding the Psybrary™ to include derivatives of mescaline and MDMA, or so-called “phenylalkylamines.” In a nutshell, our Psybrary™ is a growing repository of actual derivatives available for pharmacological testing, but also a portfolio of IP meant to protect the use of these (and many other) derivatives. The actual derivatives are being synthesized by our science team, who include both synthetic chemists and biochemists. We are forming University-based partnerships to survey these derivatives as part of our candidate selection program.

Do you have a plan for expanding into other psychedelics, such as MDMA, ibogaine, mescaline, and ayahuasca?

Yes. Our tryptamine IP portfolio currently includes 12 filed patent applications directed to 9 different chemical compound categories covering over 125 million individual molecules. We will be using this “broad brush” approach to protect potential derivatives in other compound classes, as well. To support our upcoming IP in the space of mescaline, MDMA and other “phenylalkylamine” classes, we are launching production programs to make derivatives of these compounds. Our Psybrary™ will be expanding in a number of directions.

What will you do with this information? Are you planning to offer licensing for the new molecular compositions?

My role as CTO is to develop our Psybrary™ and to support our candidate selection program. Our CEO Dr. Joseph Tucker and CSO Dr. Peter Facchini are currently spearheading partnership opportunities. Our goal is not to preclude anyone from moving ahead with the development of new drugs, but to protect the space with a wide IP umbrella so that future partners  - ideally big Pharma – can confidently move forward in bringing new drugs to market. Without strong IP, it is impossible to withstand the long, expensive process of getting new medicines approved.

What is the most common misconception you hear about psychedelics?

It’s very frustrating when I hear people say that we already have what we need in terms of psychedelic-based medicine. While psilocybin, mescaline, and other natural products appear to be effective, we need more options. I often use the example of willow bark, which contains the natural pain-relieving agent salicin. Scientists began playing with salicin derivatives, and eventually developed Aspirin which is more effective, less irritating, and used worldwide. We need this forward-looking vision!

Also, while I am a big fan of the late Dr. Alexander Shulgin (I’ve read his books and scientific publications) I disagree with his (and others’) apparent view that a desirable drug is one that must induce hallucinations. Psychedelics like psilocybin act in very complex ways, and their effectiveness against things like depression, PTSD or anxiety might not be linked with strong hallucinations. Take for example ibogaine – recently, a non-hallucinogenic derivative was shown to have therapeutic potential.

How do you see psychedelic medicines making an impact on healthcare as a whole in the future?

I believe psychedelic medicines will make a profound impact, as they represent an entirely new class of drugs for the treatment of mental disorders. Their mode of action is unique compared to the pharmacology of existing treatments. The scale of the impact will depend on our ability to make and screen new derivatives, however, as we need to develop psychedelic-type medicines that can be prescribed confidently without burdensome supervision requirements on the part of healthcare professionals. Right now, current models are based on “hours-long therapy sessions” in conjunction with psychedelic use. While these treatment models are proving effective, public healthcare systems like those in Canada and the UK could benefit from medicines a patient can self-administer, without extensive supervision. The availability of novel, practically-applied derivatives (perhaps those with reduced or no hallucinogenic effects) would have a bigger, wider impact in my opinion. Ideally, I’d like an effective treatment for depression where I’m still able to drive to work in the morning.

Who is someone doing important work in the world of psychedelics that you think more people should be aware of?

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is Director and Head of the UK’s Centre for Psychedelic Research. He’s leading a world-class team in performing cutting-edge human brain imaging to discern the effects of psychedelics. He’s also spearheading actual clinical trials, which are essential to move this field forward. 

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