'Rainforests Are Nature's Medicine Cabinets': Biotech Co. Performs Fresh Research On Traditional Plants For Modern Mental Health Challenges

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Numerous companies in the psychedelics industry are essentially advancing research on compounds that have a history of past use. Some of them are particularly focusing on the believed effects that millenary plants hold and targeting contemporary mental health conditions by performing a scientific tweak on these ancient medicines.

Such is the case of Magdalena Biosciences, a company formed by NASDAQ-listed commercial-stage biotech Jaguar Health (NASDAQ:JAGX) and clinical-stage botanical psychedelics firm Filament Health (OTCQB:FLHLF), to develop “novel, natural prescription medicines derived from plants for mental health indications.”

‘Rainforests Are Nature’s Medicine Cabinets’

“Earth’s rainforests are often described as nature’s largest medicine cabinets – and for good reason, as many of the world’s important pharmaceutical medicines were discovered by studying the traditional medicine of indigenous peoples,” said Dr. Steven King, Jaguar’s chief sustainable supply and ethnobotanical research officer and a Magdalena advisor.

Magdalena's drug portfolio is not unfamiliar with developing next-generation psychoactive treatments from traditional plants, as shown by recent coca leaf research efforts for potential ADHD treatment. 

The evaluation process for plants that have a history of traditional use by humans involves expanding traditional uses with exploratory studies in animals prior to initiating clinical trials in people. 

The latest announcement points at a preclinical study in mice, which is using a plant extract found in a lead Magdalena botanical drug candidate. 

The study, initiated in Brazil, showed the extract's psychoactive activity in the animals, as seen through radioactive PET scans. Taking the rats' increased brain activity as a result of the extract's administration, these findings would point to the extract's potential beneficial effect for conditions where such areas show hypofunction -like ADHD, depression and anxiety. 

An additional connectivity analysis showed the plant extract appears to reshape the neuronal network. This, the company says, is "especially" encouraging, as it aims to soon move toward clinical studies. 

The botanical drug candidate as a whole is under study for its potential use as a next-generation psychoactive drug for treating neuropsychiatric conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and anxiety, among others.

Magdalena CEO, Dr. Karen Brunke, says the company's goal is "to identify effective, plant-based next-generation psychoactive drugs that are safe, can be taken at home and can be used on a long-term basis." 

According to Brunke, upcoming plans include entering the clinical stage in 2024 "with at least one botanical drug candidate" after an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA, under the agency's Botanical Guidance. Once approved, Magdalena "may be able to go directly into a Phase II clinical trial for the extract, with no need for a Phase I trial,” she advanced.

The Study's Relevance

The growing market for psychoactive plant-derived medicines owes to unfortunate estimates noting that one in four people worldwide will suffer a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives, per the WHO.

As of today, the agency reports, about 450 million people suffer from these conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill health and disability globally. Widespread mental health conditions include depression, PTSD, anxiety, addiction, bipolar disorder and anorexia nervosa, and expand to include neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS. 

Magdalena was formed "to harness the power of ethnobotany and indigenous knowledge" to identify and evaluate traditional medicines, used for hundreds or thousands of years, to look for medications that are likely to be safe and effective and eventually bring them to a wider market as sustainably-derived prescription pharmaceuticals, says Dr. King. 

“So many companies evaluating plant-derived drugs for mental health disorders are chasing the same seven compounds or plants, and it’s encouraging that a third-party organization recently submitted the first New Drug Application (NDA) to the FDA for a psychedelic drug [MDMA for PTSD treatment,]" he added. 

Magdalena's goal of identifying "the next generation of psychoactive botanical drugs" is supported by Jaguar’s library of 2,300 medicinal plants and 3,500 plant extracts as well as the team’s extensive ethnobotanical expertise (many trained by "the father of modern ethnobotany," the late Dr. Richard Evans Schultes.

Photo courtesy of Hans Luiggi on Unsplash.

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