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Will psychedelics become mainstream? This Calgary company is betting on it – CBC.ca

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Danny Motyka discovered his love for chemistry when he was high on LSD back in the mid-2000s. The single tab of blotter acid — emblazoned with images of tongues from the rock band Kiss — set him on a path to push psychedelics out of the shadows.

Now 31, Motyka is the CEO of Psygen, a Calgary business hoping to manufacture synthetic psychedelics for the pharmaceutical industry. While the application of hallucinogens in medicine is in its infancy and remains highly speculative, Motyka and his company of believers are encouraged by renewed interest in the field.

“There’s a huge market opportunity here,” Motyka said. 

A spate of early scientific research — along with big injections of cash from wealthy and celebrity investors — has triggered a renaissance of sorts for psychedelics, which for decades were pushed underground by the war on drugs. 

Companies want to be the next psychedelic unicorn

Dozens of companies have emerged in recent years, seeking to get in on the ground floor of a fledgling industry they bet will take them higher. Some, like Germany-based Atai Life Sciences and the U.K.’s Compass Pathways, have become unicorns — not some kind of hallucination, but the type of startups worth more than $1 billion.  

Danny Motyka, left, and Peter van der Heyden are co-founders of the Calgary startup Psygen, which has ambitions to supply the pharmaceutical industry with psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

“We’re really breaking ground here in that psychedelic chemistry has been illegal, and now we’re able to do it in a legal context,” said Peter van der Heyden, Psygen’s co-founder and chief science officer. 

“It’s never been done before.”

Potential for a new industry

Magic mushrooms, LSD and other psychedelics are hallucinogenic drugs that remain illegal to possess for recreational use. But some regulators such as Health Canada have allowed for research into them as possible treatments for mental health conditions, sending companies and investors on a trip to a new industry.

While the sector initially attracted an early rush of investor enthusiasm, some of the euphoria has already begun to fade as shareholders come to grips with the long and uncertain road ahead.

Researchers are still running clinical trials looking into whether substances like psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can effectively and safely treat depression, or whether MDMA, often found in ecstasy or molly, can help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We have to go through the entire drug approval pathway and demonstrate safety and demonstrate efficacy,” van der Heyden said. “So it’s too early, really, to say we know that these things work.”

Production expected early 2022

Psygen’s lab, currently under construction, would initially manufacture psychedelics for research and clinical trials, though it still needs Health Canada approval. The company hopes those trials lead to the creation of new therapeutic drugs, allowing its lab to expand to commercial-scale production of medical-grade substances.

They’ve asked Health Canada for a dealer’s license, which gives special permission to handle and produce controlled drugs that are otherwise illegal to possess. The designation comes with a strict set of rules, including security measures to prevent theft, proper record keeping and reporting.

Van der Heyden, left, and Motyka stand inside the construction site of the firm’s psychedelics manufacturing facility, expected to be operational by March 2022. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

For now, company officials are optimistic the first phase of the project will secure the green light from federal regulators and they can start producing psychedelics by the end of March 2022.

By then, the facility would be capable of producing 12 to 15 kilograms of synthetic psilocybin a year, enough to fill demand from clinical research, Motyka said.

Marijuana paves the way for mushrooms

The Alberta business has applied to handle eight different psychedelic drugs, though its CEO said psilocybin is the substance most in demand from drug development companies, likely because of loosening cannabis laws.

“That’s reflective of this liberalization of plant medicines. It’s easy to go from cannabis as a medicine to mushrooms as a medicine,” Motyka said. “It’s a bit harder to make that next jump to LSD, especially with the amount of stigma that’s associated.”

Researchers are looking at psilocybin’s potential to treat various conditions, from anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, to problematic substance use. Health Canada, which has approved three clinical trials testing the drug in treatment of depression, said psilocybin has so far shown some promise in some cases, but further research is needed.

“Clinical trials are the most appropriate and effective way to advance research with unapproved drugs such as psilocybin,” the regulator said in a statement.

“Clinical trials ensure that the best interests of patients are protected and that a product is administered in accordance with national and international ethical, medical and scientific standards.”

‘Hungry for something new’

Industry observers say the legalization of cannabis for recreational or strictly medical purposes in many parts of the world has helped to ease stigmas and convince investors to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into psychedelics.

Plus, the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 virus — and the rounds of restrictions that came with it — triggered a fresh wave of mental health concerns. And it’s happening at a time when people are interested in unconventional ways of looking at problems, said Leila Rafi, a Toronto lawyer with clients in the industry.

Leila Rafi, a Toronto lawyer, says a fresh wave of mental health concerns emerging from the coronavirus pandemic has helped to bring renewed focus to psychedelics as possible medicines. (Leila Rafi)

“There’s a lot of investors out there who are willing to put a little bit of money into this industry and see what happens — and even take a bit of a hit,” said Rafi, a partner in McMillan’s capital markets group.

“And I think investors are just hungry for something new.”

Psychedelic stocks in a lull

Steve Hawkins, the CEO of financial services company Horizons ETFs, runs a fund that allows people to invest in the broader psychedelics market. The exchange traded fund (ETF) tracks a couple dozen publicly traded companies that are heavily involved in, or have significant exposure to, the industry.

So far, it’s individual investors, rather than big pension funds, that have parked money in the fund, Hawkins said.

“This is still a very early stage investment proposition.”

An initial burst of investor excitement has given way to a lull in recent months, with share prices for drug development firms plunging. The Horizons psychedelics ETF has lost half of its value on the stock market since hitting a peak in February. 

In an industry where companies are not making money, stock prices are driven by other developments, including news of breakthroughs in research. But there haven’t been enough intoxicating incentives to lure investors back, Hawkins said, noting that while share prices have fallen from their peaks, they are still above where they were in 2020.

Investors hooked on psychedelic ventures also face plenty of risk.

“All investors who are investing in early stage drug development companies need to be prepared to lose a substantial amount of money– Eric Foster, Dentons lawyer

Firms that are attracting troves of investment dollars are often burning through all that cash researching drugs that may not materialize, Hawkins said. “These are very risky companies.”

Some could fail, similar to what happened in the cannabis industry

“All investors who are investing in early stage drug development companies need to be prepared to lose a substantial amount of money,” said Eric Foster, a partner at Dentons law firm who helps investment banks finance psychedelic ventures.

“The (potential) upside is that they will be able to take a candidate all the way through the regulatory approval process, and effectively get to a drug that’s been approved … Then, all of a sudden, it’s going to be worth significantly more.”

A new frontier

The very idea that psychedelics could emerge from the shadows of a decades-long drug war and pave the way to a new frontier of medicine has inspired other investors with deep pockets.

Liam Payne, pictured here performing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2019, is among a growing list of celebrity investors betting on psychedelics. (Khalid Alhaj/The Associated Press)

Liam Payne, the British One Direction singer, along with PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Theil are on the growing list of celebrity investors. New York Mets owner Steven Cohen, Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary and Tim Ferriss, the podcaster and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, are also on the roster.

Then there’s Sa’ad Shah. Convinced that researchers are only scratching the surface of psychedelics’ potential power to reshape mental healthcare, he co-founded a venture capital player focused on the industry. 

Sa’ad Shah, co-founder of a psychedelics venture capital fund, says the industry is ‘a bit of the Wild West. (Sa’ad Shah)

Shah has been raising money from friends, various CEOs and ultra-high-networth investors to build a warchest to unleash on dozens of companies. The Noetic Fund, based in Toronto, raised $32 million US in its first round and invested it into 22 ventures, including Calgary’s Psygen. Now, it’s on the hunt for another $200 million.

Nearly halfway there, Shah said he’s not facing the same kind of investor burnout that has sent stock prices tumbling. He said most of the “crown jewels” in the industry remain privately held companies that continue to raise funds.

“It’s a burgeoning industry,” Shah said. “It’s an incredibly exciting industry. It is a bit of the Wild West.”

An opportunity and a business venture

Van der Heyden, Psygen’s co-founder, says he found a gap in this Wild West landscape when he spoke with researchers who couldn’t get their hands on pharmaceutical-grade psychedelics for their studies. He saw an opportunity. 

A child of the hippie era of the 1960s and early 1970s, he said the counterculture movement exposed him to drugs like LSD. But it wasn’t until his retirement that psychedelics became a possible business venture. 

And it’s made for some unusual conversations.  

“I might be sitting at the barber and he asks me, ‘What do you do?’ And so I say, ‘Hey, guess what? We make psychedelic drugs.'”

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Canada’s First Quantum agrees to higher payments at Panama copper mine

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The Panamanian unit of Canadian miner First Quantum Minerals has agreed with Panama’s government to increase royalty payments at its flagship copper mine, the company and the government said on Monday.

Minera Panama, which is majority owned by First Quantum Minerals, has agreed to pay $375 million a year to state coffers from the Cobre Panama mine, which it says is one of world’s largest copper producers.

“We accept the proposal of the national Government, while requesting that the necessary protections be provided in order to safeguard the continuity of the operation,” Minera Panama said in a statement.

The company did not immediately respond to a question about the size of the increase in royalty payments

Panama‘s government said President Laurentino Cortizo would give details of the agreement on Tuesday.

The company began negotiating a new contract with officials in September, after Cortizo promised to seek a fairer deal with better public benefits.

Toronto-based First Quantum began commercial operations at Cobre Panama, about 120 km (75 miles) west of Panama City, in 2019.

The mine contributes 3.5% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to government figures, and at full capacity can produce more than 300,000 tonnes of copper per year.

 

(Reporting by Elida Moreno, writing by Daina Beth Solomon, editing by Richard Pullin)

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U.N. chief urges business to help poor nations in ‘hour of need’

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to business leaders on Monday to support developing countries “in their hour of need” with access to COVID-19 vaccines, help to combat the climate crisis and reform of the global financial system.

Speaking virtually to the World Economic Forum, Guterres said: “Across all three of these areas, we need the support, the ideas, the financing and the voice of the global business community.”

He said there has been a “global inability to support developing countries in their hour of need” and warned that without immediate action inequalities and poverty would deepen, fueling more social unrest and more violence.

“We cannot afford this kind of instability,” said Guterres, who began a second five-year term as U.N. chief on Jan. 1.

He has long been pushing for more global action to address COVID-19 vaccine inequity and climate change and for reform of the global financial system.

“We need a global financial system that is fit-for-purpose. This means urgent debt restructuring and reforms of the long-term debt architecture,” Guterres said.

The World Health Organization last year set targets for 40% of people in all countries to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of 2021 and 70 per cent by the middle of this year.

“We are nowhere near these targets. Vaccination rates in high-income countries are — shamefully — seven times higher than in African countries. We need vaccine equity, now,” Guterres said.

He also warned of a lopsided recovery from the pandemic with low-income countries at a huge disadvantage.

“They’re experiencing their slowest growth in a generation,” Guterres said. “The burdens of record inflation, shrinking fiscal space, high interest rates and soaring energy and food prices are hitting every corner of the world and blocking recovery — especially in low- and some middle-income countries.”

 

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Franklin Paul)

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'I'm out of gas:' Leadership burnout on the rise as pandemic takes mental health toll – CTV News

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Workers turn to them for support, clients rely on them for answers, companies lean on them in times of crisis.

Yet as the pandemic stretches inexorably on, experts say the never-ending demands on business leaders are pushing some to the brink of burnout.

Stress, uncertainty and long hours are causing malaise among many managers. It’s a condition that — if left unchecked long enough — can manifest as exhaustion, disengagement, depression and burnout, they say.

“Leaders are under tremendous strain,” says Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks.

“When the pandemic first started, we saw the adrenalin kick in, decisions were made fast and work got done,” she says. “But it’s been relentless. Leaders are exhausted.”

It’s not just people in charge hitting a wall 22 months, five waves and multiple variants into the COVID-19 pandemic.

New research has found an extreme level of exhaustion among many Canadian workers from the bottom to the top. Many say they’re more stressed now than during initial lockdowns.

Essential front-line workers from nurses to grocery store clerks have faced innumerable risks of infection. Others face precarious employment without sick days or benefits. Some have lost their jobs altogether and struggle to pay rent and buy food.

In comparison to these hardships, some might be quick to dismiss the challenges of leaders.

Yet many have reported an increase in exhaustion and mental health concerns since the start of the pandemic.

Supervisors, low-level managers, small business owners and senior executives are grappling with increasing demands and surging work volumes.

Many are putting in extra hours to keep things running while also providing support and encouragement to workers.

“Business leaders are supposed to be cheerleaders,” says Mike Johnston, president and CEO of Halifax software company Redspace.

“But we’ve been trying to hustle and pivot and get through this for so long now. I’m out of gas.”

For some managers, the inability to offer more certainty and support to workers is what keeps them up at night.

“When you’re the leader of a group of people you want to have all the answers,” says Barry Taylor, director of operations for The Ballroom, a large entertainment venue in downtown Toronto.

“But you don’t and you just feel helpless and burnt out.”

Experts say late-stage pandemic fatigue is taking a toll on many managers, with some veering towards burnout.

The symptoms can include emotional exhaustion, detachment, loss of motivation and reduced efficiency — all of which can have a ripple effect throughout an entire workplace, they say.

“It’s exhausted leaders leading exhausted teams,” says Jennifer Moss, a Waterloo, Ont.-based workplace consultant and author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.

“Managers are trying to be stoic and demonstrate strength and certainty for their employees when many don’t feel that themselves.”

Pandemic burnout isn’t unique to leaders, but she says there are particular stressors facing those in charge.

“It can be more isolating at the top,” Moss says. “Senior leaders and managers can sometimes feel very alone.”

There’s also a perception that because people in management positions “earn the big bucks” they should be prepared to cope with the additional responsibility and stress, she says.

“We sometimes forget there’s a human behind that role and regardless of how much they’re being paid, how much they earn, it doesn’t fix the grief and the pain and the stress that they’re dealing with,” Moss says.

The perception that managers should demonstrate unwavering leadership and steadfast support of their workers can increase fears of seeking help, experts say.

“There’s a definite stigma,” says Chantal Hervieux, associate professor of strategy at Saint Mary’s University’s Sobey School of Business and director of the school’s MBA program and Centre for Leadership Excellence.

“There’s less acceptance for leaders to talk about mental health issues.”

Leaders are expected to be in control, have the answers and be supportive of their team members, she says.

Despite the near constant uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic, those expectations have remained the same — or increased, Hervieux says.

“Canadian business leaders are working hard to keep things going but some are suffering,” she says. “They’re paying a mental health price and we need to talk about it.”

The challenge of trying to lead during the pandemic is backed up by research.

A survey by LifeWorks and Deloitte Canada released last summer found 82 per cent of senior leaders reported feeling exhausted.

The poll found the top two stressors were an increase in work volume compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the desire to provide adequate support for the well-being of staff.

More than half of those polled said they were considering leaving their roles.

“I’ve been chatting with other CEOs and there seems to be a shift,” Johnston with Redspace says. “There’s a number of founders looking to get out, to exit. The fun of the chase isn’t balanced against the stress of it.”

Still, despite some of the unique pressures facing leaders, burnout appears to be impacting all workers.

A new Bromwich+Smith poll conducted by Angus Reid found more than 70 per cent of people surveyed are worried about their physical and mental health, including sleep issues, fear of COVID-19 and burnout.

Another study by Canada Life found a high level of burnout among Canadian workers. The survey conducted by Mental Health Research Canada found more than a third of all working Canadians are feeling burned out.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022.

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