Crowdfunding Psychedelic Research at Molecule Catalyst: Interviews with Tyler Golato and Rotem Petranker
In the past few months, we have been on the lookout for innovative blockchain startups that are developing new and unique applications of the technology. Along the way, we found Molecule Catalyst, a reward-based, crowdfunding platform for scientific research using cryptocurrency, specifically research in early stage drug development. According to their blog, the platform “is scheduled to go live on the Ethereum mainnet in Q4 2019.”
Last month, Molecule Catalyst announced their first research project to be hosted on the platform. MC revealed on their blog that “the project is in partnership with Rotem Petranker and Thomas Anderson, directors at the University of Toronto Mississauga Psychedelic Studies Research Program (PSRP)*, the pioneering group leading the study that will take a look at the “effects of microdosing psilocybin,” the primary psychedelic compound found in ‘magic’ mushrooms. We connected with Rotem Petranker, one of the directors of the PSRP, and with Tyler Golato, scientific lead at Molecule to talk about the Molecule Catalyst platform and this exciting new partnership.
*Note: the partnership is with Mr. Petranker and Mr. Anderson directly. Molecule Catalyst is not affiliated with/partnered with the University of Toronto itself. Edited for brevity and clarity.
Tyler, what is Molecule Catalyst?
Tyler: Molecule Catalyst enables researchers to create globally accessible funding campaigns for their research projects. Molecule Catalyst represents our first step towards the democratization and decentralization of drug development. We want to create a collaborative ecosystem where stakeholders in drug development can work together to bring drugs to patients while sharing the costs, risks, and rewards of this process.
Rotem Petranker and Thomas Anderson at the PSRP are looking to raise funding for their latest research project through Molecule Catalyst as a platform. This funding will go to a rigorous, high-impact clinical trial to study the effects of psilocybin, the primary psychedelic compound found in ‘magic’ mushrooms, to improve cognitive function and to alleviate negative mood symptoms. The research will focus on microdosing – taking a sub-hallucinogenic amount of a psychedelic substance small enough to prevent “tripping,” but high enough to produce a physiological response.
Rotem, how’d you get into this line of psychedelic research?
Rotem: My friend who’s a psychiatrist emailed me a few years ago saying, “hey, we’re starting a reading group, but I’m not interested in research so you could join us.” And then I went to the inaugural meeting and I said, “guys, we should be doing this research rather than reading about it.” So I invited Thomas and a couple of other people to the second meeting and we basically created a splinter group focused on research.
Behind the scenes, how does Molecule Catalyst work?
Tyler: Molecule Catalyst uses a novel blockchain-based incentive system based on Token Bonding Curves (a mathematical curve that defines a relationship between price and token supply, creating its own market without a crypto exchange) that creates an improved crowdfunding experience for both researchers and contributors. These smart contracts automatically distribute unique project tokens when a contribution is received. The price of these tokens depends on the circulating supply and increases when additional tokens are minted.
Why did you choose the Ethereum network for handling the transactions?
Tyler: We very much believe in open-source software development and public decentralization. The Ethereum network provides us with a near ideal infrastructure to follow through with these goals.
What is the process like for approving or rejecting research proposals?
Tyler: We want high-impact projects that would be of direct interest to the crypto community (who will be funding these projects initially), as well as the broader general public. The projects should be innovative and ground-breaking, but also accessible. We want to support projects that are thinking big but doing so in a pragmatic way where real progress could be made in a reasonable timeframe. We want to support researchers that are excited to employ open science principles in their work.
What’s the next step in your psychedelic research process. Is there any research project after this?
Rotem: So what we want to do with this mechanism study is to test what we learned from the survey. What we want to learn from this study is what microdosing can do in a lab setting. Then, based on that do some followup studies. If we discover that microdosing is indeed useful for our creativity, then we can try to develop a protocol to optimize how much (creativity) you can have. If we see that it is indeed good for your mood then the next study will be. We’ll be comparing microdosing with psychotherapy and antidepressants with psychotherapy.
Rotem, so is the research mostly focused on psilocybin or are you ever going to get into other substances like LSD, for example?
Rotem: We’ve been in touch with a company from the U.S. who have LSD and they really want to help people do research. So that’s for sure something we would want to do in the future. But we wanted to start with psilocybin for two reasons. One is that when people hear LSD, they get the LSD scare. So psilocybin is more politically palatable. Also the half life of psilocybin compared to LSD is much shorter. We have to keep people in the lab for the entire time the substance is active. With psilocybin, they (research subjects) just have to spend six hours in the lab versus 10 hours.
You have more launch projects regarding aging and rare diseases, is that right?
Tyler: We decided to focus on a few key areas of research with our launch. These are Psychedelic Studies, Aging and Longevity, Rare and Neglected Disease.
We have a handful of projects from these core areas of focus that are extremely exciting, and we cannot wait to announce them. Interestingly, there is a lot of crossover between the crypto, psychedelics, and longevity spaces. We hope to work to increase the cross-pollination of ideas in these areas with Molecule.
Please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more.