Delix raises $70M to test psychedelic analogs for treating brain disorders in clinical trials next year

Delix Therapeutics, named a 2021 Fierce 15 winner today, has secured $70 million to bring two psychedelic analogs through phase 1 trials to treat brain disorders and boost its drug discovery work.

The Boston-based biotech is riding on the tailwinds of the broader psychedelic and mental health spaces, both of which have seen increasing investor interest amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Delix, however, is creating "psychoplastogens," which don't carry the hallucinogenic and addictive qualities of psychedelics like LSD and MDMA.

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The goal is to promote neuroplasticity through drugs that can be taken orally and at home, and potentially through just one administration. Put simply, Delix wants the brain to form new neural connections so it can tackle various conditions amid the ever-growing mental health crisis. 

To do so, Delix has built a library of nearly 1,000 compounds and identified several potential candidates to take into the clinic. CEO Mark Rus, formerly group vice president of neuroscience at Shire, was hush-hush in an interview about the specific conditions Delix will test its first two assets on in the clinic next year. 

Delix's scientific basis comes out of the lab of Chief Innovation Officer David Olson, Ph.D., whose research on psychedelics at University of California, Davis has led to publications in multiple journals. His lab has shown that psychedelics can regrow cortical neurons and are "incredibly potent at doing this," Olson said in an interview with Fierce Biotech. 

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Compared to other Big Pharmas and biotechs working on antidepressants, Delix is attempting to make treatments from a healing-based approach rather than a symptom-modulation angle, Rus said in the interview. Antidepressants have "helped a ton of people," but the neuropsychiatric space requires innovation so patients have access to newer and better drugs, he added.

If the first two tests prove out Delix's platform in neuropsychiatry, the biotech aims to tackle neurodegenerative disorders as well, Rus said. 

For now, Delix will rely on the industry expertise of Rus, Olson and Chief Scientific Officer Kurt Rasmussen, Ph.D., who previously led the National Institute on Drug Abuse's division of therapeutics. Former Yumanity Therapeutics Chief Medical Officer Brigitte Robertson, M.D., joined the biotech in August to head up the same post.

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Artis Ventures, RA Capital and OMX Ventures led the round. More than a dozen other groups backed Delix in the financing, including Chicago-based psychedelic fund Palo Santo.