Cosmo Feilding Mellen has been making huge strides in fueling the second psychedelic renaissance. This time with a professional pharmaceutical theme. His venture, Beckley Psytech has raised funding from top-tier investors like Leafy Tunnel, Palo Santo Fund, Delphi VC, and What If Ventures.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How psychedelic assisted psychotherapy works
- How psychedelics work in the brain
- The best part of the journey when building a business
- Cosmo’s top advice before starting your own company
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About Cosmo Feilding Mellen:
Cosmo Feilding Mellen invested in Maya Health on Dec 17, 2021. This investment – Seed Round – Maya Health – was valued at $3.5M.
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Connect with Cosmo Feilding Mellen:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we’re going to be having the battle of accents. You’re going to hear the Spanglish coming from me. You’re going to hear some British accent as well. But nonetheless, I think that we’re going to be learning a lot about a new industry that has been incubated for quite a while, but now there is a lot of hype. There’s a lot of momentum around it, and I think that we’re going to be learning from one of the top experts in this segment. So without further ado, let’s welcome our guest today. Cosmo Feilding-Mellen, welcome to the show.
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: Great. Thanks, Alejandro. It’s lovely to be here.
Alejandro: Let’s talk about your upbringing. Let’s talk about life growing up between London and Oxford. Give us a walk through memory lane.
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: I suppose I grew up with unconventional parents who have probably shaped much of my career path on reflection. Both of my parents really had committed their lives to psychedelics and the potential of psychoactive substances and altered states of consciousness to make the world a better place in some way or another. They were unusual parents, but we had a lovely, fairly normal life in terms of growing up and going to school. I went to Oxford University. I mean, it was a lovely childhood, but my mom Amanda Feilding is a well-known figure in, I suppose, what we will come to talk about, which is the Psychedelic Renaissance. I suppose that has been a running theme for my whole life.
Alejandro: That influenced the career path that I took, but I’m wondering here, as well, for your mom, what got her into psychedelics?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: For my mother, it was a personal experience in the ‘60s. She was alive in those days, as was my dad. It was the personal experience of altered states of consciousness and thinking, “What an amazing experience.” She actually had an experience that my dad had. In fact, both my mother and my father did this, which is, obviously, anecdotal, but they both were cigarette smokers. My dad smoked 60 cigarettes a day and then was given a psychedelic drug, Mescaline, and didn’t notice, but while he was on it, he quit. He wasn’t smoking kind of thing at the time. The next day, he looked back and realized that he hadn’t been smoking and that it was just a habit. He managed to instantaneously kick a 60-cigarette-a-day habit by taking a psychedelic. Those types of experiences swayed to their view on the potential of these substances to have great benefit.
Alejandro: Why would you say that your mother took it upon herself to campaign and to create more consciousness around this?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: Good question. They’ve really been committed to it since the ‘60s. My mom and dad ran a business together, unrelated in the art world. Then in the ‘90s, when my mother was a bit older, she had been trying as an individual—she had left school at 16 years old and had been trying as an individual to get the powers that be to take this subject seriously and pay attention. But she struggled to get real traction. Then she decided that by setting up a foundation. I grew up in a house where my mom grew up when she was a child, and indeed, her dad had grown up. It’s a very beautiful old house in the countryside in England. It’s like 500 years old. It’s called Beckley Park. She named the nonprofit a charitable foundation, Beckley Foundation. The remit of the foundation was to do two things: 1) reignite science’s interest and research into psychedelic compounds in their medical potential, and 2) research and campaign for evidence-based drug policy reform, so trying to improve the drug policies that were out there at the time. She realized that by doing that as a foundation rather than as an individual, she was able to attract more legitimate partners. She was able to get the top scientists in the UK, initially, and then the top drug policy experts and politicians to join the board and become involved in the charity. It was a transition from being an individual activist to being a more institutional campaigner, and that’s what she’s been doing ever since.
Alejandro: In your case, you followed their footsteps, and you were influenced, as well, and you were inspired by your parents and by what they were experiencing and also campaigning about. But in what event, or what would you say the trigger was for you to say, “I’m going to dedicate my life to this.”?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: You could argue that I was brainwashed as a child, so there was no single event because it was—a) the damage of draconian drug policies is one thing, but really, more importantly, the potential of psychoactive substances to have profound, positive impacts on individuals and broader society was something that I was brought up with from as early as I can remember. So it’s been the main topic of conversation my whole life. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up with and surrounded by many of the most famous and iconic pioneers around this particular area of research. I suppose I just naturally absorbed it and always thought it was something that I wanted to contribute to in my own way. I didn’t know how I wanted to contribute, but I always knew I wanted to try. I felt like this was a very worthwhile mission to get involved in and try. It was a way to try to really make a positive impact on the world. There was no one specific point. It was a process of gradual osmosis, I suppose.
Alejandro: And definitely following in the footsteps of your mom, creative consciousness because after Oxford, what you did is you went into documentaries, filmmaking, and without a doubt, that was the segue for you to get into business with your mother. What an interesting arrangement. Tell us about how that happened.
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: My whole adult life, I’ve been involved peripherally with the Beckley Foundation and nonprofit work that they’ve been doing. I’ve been an advisor to them. I’ve even been a guinea pig inside some of the scientific research. One of the things they did was set up a brain-imaging study with Imperial College in London, which is one of the top universities in the world. They were doing brain imaging on people who were injected with Psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in mushrooms. I was one of the volunteers and participants in the study. I was injected with Psilocybin in a huge cat scanner brain-imaging machine. All through my life, I’ve been involved in it. When I finished university, I wanted to contribute in my own way, and I felt like one way to do that was to try and get the message out to a wider audience. So I went into filmmaking, but I was wanting to get these messages out through filmmaking. It’s the same kind of mission but a particular route to do it. With the first documentary I made, I was incredibly lucky. I ended up getting to direct a documentary about international drug policy. The producer was the son of Richard Branson, and Richard Branson was involved in it. It was following several of the lead presidents and ex-presidents in the world looking back on their time in power and also looking forward to the future and analyzing the pros and cons of international drug policy. We had Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, the ex-president of Mexico, the current president of Columbia, the president of Switzerland. It was a very legitimate group of people that had come together to form what was called the Global Commission on Drug Policy. It was following their journey and, in the process, mapping out the issues that have come about in the history of how drug policy has evolved over the last several decades and the impact that has had, kind of unintended consequences that has had in many countries like Mexico and Columbia as well. That was the first film I made, which was one of the themes that the Beckley Foundation is focused on. I was very lucky that it did well. It was on Netflix. I think it was #1 on iTunes and documentary downloads. Then off the back of that, I got to make—I basically said, “What film do you want to make next,” which I was very lucky to have that choice. The film I really wanted to make was focused on the potential of psychedelics because that’s really a greater passion of mine, and the family’s is actually potential for real positive impact that you can have. I wanted to make a fun film that was telling that story but was quite fun. So I told this story. It’s called The Sunshine Makers, and it was on Netflix, and it went into cinemas in the U.S. It was about these two underground chemists who thought they could save the world by turning the world onto LSD. In the process, they made the most famous LSD ever made, which is called Orange Sunshine. It’s almost like a real-life Breaking Bad. It’s like a rise and fall drug-dealer film, but obviously the themes underneath it are looking at the history of where the Psychedelic Revolution in the ‘60s and how it emerged, what happened, why people were so excited about it, and why it also faded away back then. So the history of it becoming an illegal drug in the early research. That was the film I made then and to get closer to where we have gotten to now. At the same time, I was always involved with the Beckley Foundation and what was happening over the course of my time of making documentaries was that increasingly, there was an emerging industry around cannabis and psychedelics that we were suddenly watching, and people were approaching the Beckley Foundation about doing stuff. We were never quite sure about the partners. It became apparent to us that there was an opportunity for us to actually increase the impact of what we were doing by taking another step, so continuing the nonprofit foundation, but trying to take the next step, which was being an ethical beacon for the emerging industries related to psychedelics and cannabis. That was the aim, which was to set up companies that could share the mission of the Beckley Foundation and be ethical and actually support the nonprofit work, as well, and have a bigger and wider-reaching impact than the foundation could have because it would allow us to raise more money and do more things.
Alejandro: Also, in this case, the Beckley Canopy Therapeutics, which was the company that you did with your mother was an incredible run. You guys raised about $10 million for this company. It had an outcome of $80 million M&A transaction, so it was acquired for $80 million. Can you tell us exactly what you were doing there and how you were monetizing?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: That company actually has a focus on cannabinoids, and it was the first company that we set up. We’ve had lucky breaks here and there; I was very lucky. We were looking at how we could set up these businesses in an effective way. We were lucky enough to meet this incredibly nice group of people, one guy called Marc Wayne, who was, at the time, the head of a company called Canopy Health Innovations. He’s one of the pioneers of the Canadian cannabis industry. A little background: what had happened in the history of drug research was that there was a lot of excitement and research in the ‘50s and ‘60s into psychedelic compounds. In the ‘60s, cannabis—well, cannabis was actually made legal earlier, and psychedelics were made illegal in the ‘60s, LSD, and Psilocybin. Then the research completed ground to a halt. By the ‘90s, the Beckley Foundation and a few others were responsible for reigniting scientific interest in psychedelics and cannabis. At the same time, with the cannabis industry, what happened was there was a popular movement within certain states within the U.S. to medicalize cannabis. There was a lot of real-world use showing medical potential. Then, in Canada, they actually, on a nationwide level, were medicalizing and eventually legalized recreational cannabis. Our partner, who was called Marc Wayne, was one of the really early movers in the Canadian cannabis industry. He had been involved in setting up one of the earliest license producers of cannabis. That has gone public. That had merged with another company and created a company called Canopy Growth, which had become the biggest cannabis company in the world. We met him, and he was now in the process of wanting to launch the pharmaceutical division of that work. So rather than just medical cannabis, which is slightly different because you get a prescription to use cannabis for your medical conditions but it hasn’t gone through the same regular process as a normal pharmaceutical product. What we wanted to do was actually prove that cannabis products like well-produced GMPs of pharmaceutical quality and consistency cannabis products can be taken through the normal pharmaceutical drug development process and licensed as a proper pharmaceutical drug rather than sitting in its own regulatory situation, which was the medical cannabis space. That was the win. We were ready to set up a cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical company. He has been a very successful businessman. We hit it off really well, so he wanted to partner with us, and we had previously done really interesting research in cannabis. So we had the scientific credibility. They had huge experience on the business and the cannabis production side of things. It was a good fit, and together, we set up Beckley Canopy Therapeutics. That was the focus. I was the managing director alongside Marc Wayne, so we were co-managing directors. He was based in Canada; I was based in the UK. It was incredibly lucky for me because it was essentially doing an MBA, but actually while running a business. We raised some money, and then quite quickly, the company was acquired because Canopy Growth, the larger parent company, the partner company decided that it actually—we were doing a lot of really interesting research and kicking off some really interesting clinical trials. It made sense for them and for us to join forces and all be under one umbrella rather than being separate forces. They approached us to acquire us. At the same time, we were happy to do that because we had already started work in the background of the company I’m working on now, where I’m CEO, which is called Beckley Psytech, which is focused on developing psychedelics into pharmaceutical medicines. That is the core passion that my family and I have is with psychedelics. Moreso than cannabis, that is the area where we can make a really meaningful difference, and there’s a huge amount of potential to turn them into very powerful pharmaceutical medicines. By selling the other company, it allowed us to focus exclusively on that. Our investors had made a lot of money in a short space of time off of the first company, so we had good backing. It was a lucky break in that sense.
Alejandro: Now, for this next company, you guys have raised quite a bit of money. How much capital have you guys raised for this business?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: We’ve raised over $100 million. We set the company up in 2019. The last funding round was last year. It was kind of an Upsize Note subscribed Series B, where we raised $80 million. What we’ve tried to do with the company is to combine the deep knowledge and expertise around psychedelic science that my mother and I bring from the psychedelic side and the work that we’ve done, and the network we built up around all the world-leading experts in psychedelics over that last 20 years and combine that with a best-in-class drug development team. There’s one thing doing academic research on psychedelics, which, for the last couple of decades, has been the main work of research done by top universities like Imperial College, Johns Hopkins, and NYU, world-leading scientific institutions, but they are academic studies. The studies are not designed in a way to turn those substances into pharmaceutical medicines. They’re not part of the regulatory approval process to actually become an approved pharmaceutical product. What this company is aiming to do is to take the very promising early research that’s been done in academic settings over the last couple of decades. To that point, there have been some incredibly exciting studies looking at psychedelics looking at potential treatments for depression, alcohol addiction, smoking addiction, existential distress for people with terminal cancer, and for post-traumatic stress disorder—a whole range of very, very profound and debilitating mental health conditions. What our aim is now is to take that early-stage research and translate it into large-scale pharmaceutical development. To do that, you a) need a lot of money because pharmaceutical development is very expensive, and b) you need a whole array of talent and experience from the pharmaceutical industry that we never would have been able to access through the Beckley Foundation and nonprofit. So by setting up a company, we’ve been able to bring in brilliant people that are completely committed to developing these medicines. What’s exciting for me is going from being surrounded by the Beckley Foundation where everyone was already obsessed with it, but it was a very niche group of people who were working on that to suddenly it being the former head of Global Medical Affairs from Johnson & Johnson is now working with us. The former head of Global Commercial and Market Access Strategy of Janssen, the former CEO of Otsuka Europe. These are people at the very top of the pharmaceutical industry who have now joined a company that is focused on developing psychedelics into medicines because there’s now enough evidence for them to think, “This is exciting enough to commit my career to and give it a go. That’s incredibly exciting for me.
Alejandro: There are a lot of people listening and watching us right now, and they’re not as familiar with psychedelics. There are a lot of people that have talked about cannabis. The explosion of the cannabis sector has been unbelievable, and now there are licenses and how it’s permitted in all the different states in the U.S. It sounds to me that cannabis also has the recreational aspect, which psychedelics, for example, to a certain degree—and I’m not an expert. You can tell us: when you take psychedelics, it can perhaps rewire certain things in the brain, just like, for example, what had happened with your father. Why would you say or what would you tell the people that are listening that are not as familiar with psychedelics? Why should they take this seriously, or what should they know about psychedelics that is so important?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: It’s a really good question. The parallels between cannabis and psychedelics are Psilocybin, for instance, which is the active ingredient in Magic Mushrooms or LSD or MDMA. They are all prohibited substances. You’re not legally allowed to use them or make them unless you have an official controlled drug license. They’re controlled drugs, just as cannabis is, but there has been a huge amount of real-world use in the informal settings. During that period, where lots of people have taken them, there have been a lot of observational and anecdotal evidence that they have potential therapeutic applications. That’s where there’s a parallel. With psychedelics, it’s a much, much smaller number of people who have tried psychedelics than cannabis. But why it’s interesting from a drug development factor is that’s why, in a way, it has a similarity because there is this kind of strange back-to-front use case where it’s used out there before it’s an approved, licensed, or validated medicine. It’s just out there. What we’re trying to do is really take a very classic drug development and pharmaceutical approach to these compounds. What’s key is that over the last two-and-a-half decades, or so, there has been this body of evidence that has been building slowly, but amongst the top universities in the world, they are conducting a treatment model that is called Psychedelic-assisted Psychotherapy. This is a very important thing. It is a combination of the drug and psychotherapy, and that’s very important because one of the things about psychedelics is, in the recreational setting, there’s no control over the setting or how it’s being taken or the quality. What we’re looking at is a very, very controlled clinical setup for the treatment. There is a standardized preparation with the therapist to prepare the patient for the experience. The patient then goes into the clinic and is administered the drug in a room that is set up for a psychedelic experience. There is medical supervision in the building. In the room with them is the therapist, who has already gotten to know them in the preparation therapy, so they are with the person who is there to help them and guide them. Subsequently, after the experience, over the preceding weeks, they’re given what’s given integration therapy, which is working with their therapist to process the experience and use it for long-term behavioral change. That’s the treatment model. What’s interesting about it, to your point about resetting the brain, what was shown in these very interesting brain-imaging studies that The Beckley Foundation did with Imperial College was that under the influence of a psychedelic like LSD and Psilocybin, you can see the blood flow to the default mode network reduced. So the activity in the default mode network reduces while other parts of the brain, the connectivity to other parts of the brain increase. I won’t go into the details about what the default mode network is, but it’s very tied into your sense of self. In a sense, you can think about it as when you are in default mode, while you’re driving a car, and you’re away thinking a series of thoughts that you normally drift off to, that’s kind of your default mode network. It’s often related to your sense of the future, your sense of the past. What’s interesting is in conditions like depression and addiction, the default mode network has been shown to be overly active. In a sense, you’re being trapped in a negative spiral of thought that you can’t escape. From a neuroscientific perspective, translating it quite crudely to a psychological perspective, that’s what it looks like in the brain. With psychedelics, what happens is, it reduces the grit of the default mode network and allows other new connections to be made. This creates what’s called a window of neuroplasticity. Essentially, neuroplasticity is your ability to be able to change your patterns of thought and behavior. So it opens up this window. It’s almost like you said, defragging the computer, and opens up this window to form new patterns of behavior, and that’s why the psychotherapy is such an important piece because after the drug has been administered, there’s a period, a window of neuroplasticity, the psychotherapy can then be used to bring about long-term behavioral change, and psychotherapy can be much more effective than psychotherapy on its own. So it’s a combination. There’s a synergistic combination of drug plus therapy in this very, very controlled clinical setting. That’s what we’re trying to show now as we go into large-scale clinical trials.
Alejandro: That’s incredible. To me, this segment has incredible potential and incredible growth ahead. Just as you said, when you look at this more from a pharma setting where people have that care and guidance, I think it could be magical, and we’re definitely in the initial stages of this consciousness and awareness around it, so really cool stuff. Now, imagine if I took you into a time machine, back in time to perhaps when you were thinking about building your first company, and you had the opportunity of giving a piece of advice before launching a business to your younger self. What would that be and why, given what you know now?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: You know what? I’m going to recycle a piece of advice that Marc Wayne, who is my mentor, gave to me. I didn’t particularly take it at the time, but on reflection, I should have because when you’re starting a company—when I was starting a company, it was like I was so concerned about making a success and being like, “Oh, gosh! I really want to get to the point where it’s more established, and we’ve got more money in the company, and it’s a bigger business, and we’re ready, and it’s safer, basically; it’s a more secure company.” He said to me, “Hey, Cosmo. Trust me. This is the funniest bit. When you’re starting out the company, and it’s all ideas, and you’re turning them into reality, and it’s all fluid and flexible, this is the funniest bit, so enjoy it.” I think that’s really true. I’m enjoying immensely the new challenge of the company we’re at now, but we’re at a more advanced stage in this company. We’ve raised $100 million; we’re a bigger company. It’s a much more secure company, but also, with that comes great responsibility as well. On reflection, you should just remember to enjoy the early days, as well, because you don’t know where it’s going, and it’s a really exciting time. To me, that was excellent advice. I think I used it on the second company because I knew and really appreciated how fun and exciting those early stages are where you’re already figuring things out.
Alejandro: I love it. Cosmo, for the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: I’m on LinkedIn, and the company is on LinkedIn. We have a lot of exciting research going on at the moment, and we have a newsletter that you can subscribe to on our website, BeckleyPsytech.com. We’re delighted to hear from people, so thank you for your interest.
Alejandro: Amazing. Thank you so much, Cosmo, for being on the show today.
Cosmo Feilding-Mellen: Brilliant; thank you.
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