ATAI Life Sciences, a Peter Thiel-backed biopharmaceutical company developing psychedelic drugs to treat mental health, has taken a majority stake in U.S. firm Psyber.
Psyber is a business that wants to use brain computer interfaces to help treat people with mental health conditions.
ATAI, which describes itself as a drug development platform, was set up to acquire, incubate and develop psychedelics and other drugs that can be used to treat depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental health conditions.
The Berlin-headquartered company — founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Christian Angermayer, Florian Brand, Lars Wilde and Srinivas Rao — announced its majority stake in Psyber on Wednesday. It declined to specify what it offered Psyber in exchange for the majority stake.
In theory, a brain computer interface allows direct communication between a human brain and an external device.
ATAI said that Psyber’s brain computer interface technology, which is in the early stages of development, could one day help patients understand how drugs impact activity in their brain, while also improving the efficacy and safety of its drugs.
ATAI said it will combine the development of its psychedelic compounds with the ability to record electrical activity in the brain for real-time interpretation of emotional, behavioral, and mental states.
“Combining both medicine and BCI-assisted therapy puts the patient firmly in the driving seat as it tailors to the individual’s specific needs,” said David Keene, digital therapeutics lead of Atai, in a statement.
Prahlad Krishnan, CEO of Psyber, said that BCI has the potential to “change the world” as we know it.
“In the context of mental health, this is no exception as every patient enrolled in BCI-assisted therapy will have greater autonomy, ever more empowered to change their feelings and behaviors to improve their quality of life,” said Krishnan.
ATAI, which has roughly 50 staff in offices across Berlin, New York and San Diego, is currently partnered with 14 companies focusing on drug development and other technologies. In exchange for a majority stake in the drugs and technologies they’re developing, ATAI helps the scientists to raise money, work with the regulators, and conduct clinical trials. None of ATAI’s drugs have been formally approved by regulators to date.
Billionaire Thiel led a $125 million investment round into ATAI last November and a $157 million round into the company in March. It is now planning an IPO in the next few weeks, according to two sources close to ATAI.
“ATAI’s great virtue is to take mental illness as seriously as we should have been taking all illness all along,” Thiel, who co-founded Palantir, said in a statement shared with CNBC last November. “The company’s most valuable asset is its sense of urgency.”
Thiel is business partners with ATAI co-founder Angermayer and the pair have made a number of investments together. Beyond investing, it’s not immediately clear if Thiel is playing a significant role at ATAI.
“We were introduced — because we’re both very interested in global politics — actually way back in 2011,” said Angermayer in reference to when he first met German-born Thiel. “I know a lot of politicians as friends. In the euro crisis, I became a little bit the go-to person for many Americans and Asians, who did not understand Europe at all. How complicated we are but also how positive we are.”
Elon Musk, who co-founded PayPal with Peter Thiel in 1998, has set up a brain computer interface company called Neuralink.
Musk describes it as a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires that go into your brain.
Earlier this year, Musk said in an interview that Neuralink had wired up a monkey to play video games with its mind.
A YouTube video showing the monkey playing the arcade game Pong with its mind was shared by Neuralink on Friday.
Last August, Neuralink conducted a live demo of its technology on three pigs. An audience was shown real-time neural signals from one of the pigs, which Musk named Gertrude.