Jody Aufrichtig | Co-Founder, President and CEO, The Psyence Group
January 12, 2021
Jody Aufrichtig | Co-Founder, President and CEO, The Psyence Group
Award-winning entrepreneur, visionary business leader, impact investor and philanthropist, Jody is a Chartered Accountant by training; he is recognized for building significant and rapid shareholder value in multiple industries including the cannabis sector, private equity, travel and tourism, sport and leisure, as well as others.
What got you personally excited about psychedelics?
Having business interests in various industries over the years, I strongly believe the asset class of the future is mental health and wellbeing, from a commercial perspective and also consumer/patient demand. Until recently, the focus on health has largely been on longevity, however living until the age of 100 years will be difficult if we struggle with poor quality of life as a result of mental health issues such as anxiety. On a personal level, I have seen the positive effect that psychedelic-based treatments have had on friends and family in treating depression and significantly reducing anxiety, as well as positively changing their perspective.
Unfortunately, the scale of mental health issues seems only to be increasing and yet, many people appear not to benefit from the currently available medications. I believe we need to change the way mental health is treated and it is also my belief that psilocybin, and other psychedelics, will provide a new way support mental health and wellbeing. Indeed, there is increasing scientific evidence that psychedelics can significantly improve quality of life and have a positive impact on people’s lives.
What do you believe is the most important thing for people to understand about the future of psychedelics as medicine?
With the growing momentum in this sector, the regulators will inevitably accept that psychedelics are transformational medicines. We already know that just over the past few years, psychedelics as medicines have attracted attention from significant investors, the medical community with clinical trials and interest from their patients, and advocacy groups alike. As the sector matures, those companies that have the experience, expertise, commitment, integrity and financial wherewithal will contribute from an altruistic perspective, and also be the economic beneficiaries of this burgeoning industry. In addition to standard dosing, microdosing (i.e. a low daily dose that is sub-hallucinogenic) offers several benefits, and provided the product formulation is science-based with clinical evidence, in time, these could be made available in the over-the-counter (OTC) market.
What lessons have you learned from your experience in the early stages of the global cannabis opportunity that will help you navigate this new opportunity of psychedelic medicines?
I founded one of Africa’s first regulated medical Cannabis companies which was later sold to Canopy Growth. I then headed up Canopy’s African Cannabis operations. I learnt a significant amount about cultivation and production of cannabis, launching new consumer brands, building the right team and working with a medical division in a new legal product category. Working in a highly regulated environment, navigating the shipping of GMP certified medical cannabis products around the world, and reporting into a listing environment guides me as I navigate this exciting new industry. This experience, especially understanding quality standards and the certification process, ensures that Psyence produces the highest quality of functional and medical mushroom psychedelic products.
Can you share a bit about what you are building with Psyence?
The name “Psyence” combines the word science with the word psychedelic to honor our commitment to producing psychedelic medicine developed by evidence-based science. Psyence itself is home to four core offerings: Psyence Production, Psyence Therapeutics, Psyence Experience and Psyence Function.
Psyence Production holds one of the world’s first federally issued psilocybin licenses, due to our good standing with the Lesotho Ministry of Health. Having identified a global need for quality, legal, standardized mushrooms and mushroom extracts for medical research and legal psychedelic retreat industries, Psyence Production is set to supply high-quality natural psilocybin mushrooms and products to these growing markets. We have developed a world-class facility that is FDA accredited and have commenced cultivation of psilocybin. We provide psilocybin to our own product development and research arm, Psyence Therapeutics, and to other legal markets. We learnt from our experience in the Cannabis industry that there are many facets to ensuring safe production. Sourcing and cultivation of medically responsible products are of paramount importance, but not an industry in itself. In order to magnify the opportunity, the demand side of the industry, science, distribution, and branding all play a necessary role.
The science behind psychedelic therapies is fast catching up to the longstanding anecdotal evidence of the healing properties of psilocybin, but there is still much research that needs to be done. Under Psyence Therapeutics, our world-class medical and scientific teams will, through innovative research and clinical trials, develop class-leading psychedelic medicines in particular for our principal area of focus, palliative care.
We believe in the deep healing that can be experienced in the set and setting of licensed retreats and clinics under the supervision of medical practioners. Working with our partners and our own licensed facilities, pending the required legal framework in the countries we work in, Psyence Experience will offer curated experiences that reconnect people to nature, nourish mind and body and elevate consciousness. The experience and data we collect in this process will provide valuable insights into the motivations for, and benefits of, the psychedelic therapy while guiding and de-risking our research and clinical trials.
While we are focused on the therapeutic value of psychedelics, we also believe in the healing benefits of functional mushrooms and natural health products. Psyence Function has identified the opportunity to develop quality products for this growing market. We have partnered with leading distribution and marketing companies to ensure our products are widely available and to introduce the Psyence brand to consumers in key geographies.
How does Psyence plan to be a leading cultivator of psilocybin and what unique advantages do you have when it comes to being able to export psilocybin for clinical research and studies?
We are proud to operate one of the first commercially licensed and scalable natural psilocybin cultivation and processing facilities in the world built to GMP standards. Our team of mycologists, pharmacists and microbiologists are highly experienced in cultivation; we have imported specific strains and sourced local high strength cubensis strains, which we now grow. With respect to exporting, we are well versed in this – we have been exporting cannabis with Canopy Growth and understand the logistics of moving Scheduled products legally around the world.
What is Psyence working on as it relates to novel drug discovery around psilocybin?
We are currently working on observational studies with the use of standard doses of psilocybin to treat existential distress and other mental health disorders specifically in the context of palliative care and are focused on making a slow release microdose formulation. We are also focused on developing the Gold Standard in microdosing, both in terms of formulation and delivery. Our team is also fine-tuning our production processes, so that we can get as close as possible to standardized medical grade dosages and naturally derived whole mushroom products.
What is the core focus of how Psyence is aiming to help people?
Psyence’s primary focus is on drug development and clinical protocols to assist in treating anxiety and depression, with a particular focus on alleviating existential distress and other mental health issues in the context of palliative care and the treatment of bereavement in those who have lost a family member.
What is the most common misconception you hear about psychedelics?
There remains a misconception that psychedelics are recreational or ‘party’ drugs. We believe that our formal research will demonstrate the unequivocal clinical efficacy of psilocybin mushrooms in treating several mental health disorders particularly those associated with end-of-life considerations.
How do you see psychedelic medicines making an impact on healthcare as a whole in the future?
We believe that psilocybin will increasingly become a key natural medicine for use in support of mental wellbeing. It will make a significant impact on quality of life, especially in highly stressful circumstances such as palliative care.
What do you see as being the next major step forward for psychedelics being more medically accessible?
We need more regulatory attention and enabling legislation to control the production and use of psychedelics, so that more people are able to legally access psychedelic products and treatments in a way that is both safe and effective.
Beyond what you described, what else does Psyence stand for?
We are committed to making an impact in the geographies in which we operate. I myself bring a lifelong commitment to healing, on a personal level, our family has long worked to heal the earth. In South Africa, we founded an outreach program that strengthens the connection to nature through educational nature walks and experiences. We strongly believe in the connection between nature and wellbeing and hope to inspire future generations. It inspires our corporate focus, too.
At Psyence, our focus is “inspired by nature and guided by science.” We are working toward a future when psilocybin research is recognized as a resource that informs breakthrough therapies for disorders linked to palliative care, such as existential distress, trauma, anxiety, and depression and neurodegenerative diseases.
Who is someone doing important work in the world of psychedelics that you think more people should be aware of?
We are deeply inspired by the work of psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Ross who directed the NYU trial that showed how psilocybin could be used to treat anxiety and depression in palliative care patients. Also, Paul Stamets, the American mycologist, author and advocate of medicinal fungi and mycoremediation has educated many on how mushrooms, psychedelic and otherwise, can help heal the Earth, and ourselves.
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