We're bring back these psychedelic drugs, 'but as a medical treatment against various forms of mental health issues': atai Life Sciences Founder

Christian Angermayer, atai Life Sciences Founder & Chairman, joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down atai's public debut on the Nasdaq and the future of the psychedelic sector.

Video Transcript

- Let's take a look at Atai Life Sciences, because it's making its public debut today and investors seem to really like the stock. Taking a look at its performance so far, you can see shares up 29%. It priced at $15 a share, opened at 21, now trading just above $19 a share. Now, this is the largest publicly traded psychedelic company. So we want to talk a little bit more about this with Christian Angermayer. He is Atai Life Sciences founder and chairman.

And Christian, it's great to have you. Congratulations on this big day for your company. Investors seem pretty excited about the potential here. Talk to us just, I guess, first about the products that you're offering, and also your plans to make them medically available here in the US.

CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER: Exactly. So you already said it, it's all about medical. So what we're doing, we're bringing back so-called psychedelics. You might, for example, know magic mushrooms, which the active ingredient is called psilocybin, or MDMA or DMT, what people use when they do ayahuasca in South America. So we're bringing all-- back all these psychedelic substances into the legal realm, but as a medical treatment against various forms of mental health issues, so to cure-- treat and cure depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, which is-- and that's sort of the sad part of our story, is it's unfortunately, in the meantime, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problems of the health care system of society.

- Are any of these medications derived from, as you said, magic mushrooms and other psychedelics, are any of them approved for use yet in the United States?

CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER: No. So these substances are, as of today, still illegal. Actually-- and that's, I think, one of the interesting parts of our story-- some of these substances had been legal somewhen, somewhere in history in the last century. So for example, psilocybin, as I said, the ingredient or the active component, ingredient of magic mushrooms, had been medically used for the same we want to use it now again in Europe in the last century. Then there was this whole culture war. This was very political in the '60s, you remember. So they became illegal. From our point of view, wrongly illegal, especially wrongly that you can't use them medically anymore. And we want to bring them back. But as of today, not allowed yet.

- So Christian, there's still a lot of uncertainty, it sounds like, in terms of the timing of this. But from your best, I guess, guess at this point, what does the timeline look like, do you hope, in order for it to be approved in the US?

CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER: I would say some years, meaning biotech is a lengthy play. So it's not tomorrow, but it's not in 10 years. So we have, at the moment, 10 drug development programs in various phases. So we would need to go in detail. But our most advanced ones are in phase two, which is, for biotech, actually pretty advanced. So I would hope that, in the next years, we see approved products out of our portfolio.

- With any investment, there's always risk, and there are other companies which are looking at this. What do you say to investors who might say to you, look, it's not approved yet, and these things right now, whether right or wrong, are considered illegal substances in the United States?

CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER: Well, first of all, as you said, like any entrepreneurial endeavor, any company has risks, which I don't think, by the way, is bad. It's just like the flip side of return. And people should try to understand, and obviously pick the right risk/return. And that's-- I personally-- and by the way, I'm the founder of the company, but I'm also one of the largest investors. So I have put in a significant amount of money myself into the company.

So when I look at Atai as an investor, what I love is that some of our drugs-- actually, all of our drugs-- either, as I said, have been used already somewhere in the world in a medical purpose, or at least some of our drugs are still used in South America, in some countries in the world, I would say shamanistically or anecdotally. So we have-- but definitely we have data points, either, as I said, historic data points or anecdotal data points. So we do have a very strong indication that these drugs work for mental health issues.

We are now out to prove it once and for all in a proper FDA-controlled clinical setting. But different, for example, if you would look at the new cancer drug, yeah, you don't know if it works at all. So it's-- I would say it's not a black box, because obviously scientists always have an idea why they do something, but it is way more risky. So we have a-- I would say for biotech, we have a very risk-mitigated approach because of the knowledge we already have, we in society, about these drugs.

- So Christian, you're the third and you're the largest psychedelic company to go public here in the US. What's the growth potential, do you think, for this space?

CHRISTIAN ANGERMAYER: Well, let's talk numbers in terms of patients. So from my point of view, mental health is the biggest problem we have in the world. And by the way, because everything you-- and I, by the way, because I'm in tech and biotech, everything you talk about the whole day is amazing for a few people, but it's very, very bad for the brain of most of the people. So the world we live in and the world we are about to build is making our brain sick. Yeah? If you look at it, we have at the moment more than 1 billion people-- 1 billion-- globally suffering from mental health issues. Yeah?

And that is actually, how you say, the official number, not the real one, because also, unfortunately, mental health is still a very stigmatized disease. So people are not always coming forward, are not always seeking help, actually also both because it's stigmatized but also because the current treatments out there do not really work. Best case, they numb you, like SSRIs and benzos, but they can't cure you. So people are desperate, and people don't come forward. And yet, we already have a billion of patients diagnosed.

So unfortunately, the market is huge. It's a billion now, officially. I think it's going to grow massively because more and more people will come forward that they have mental health issues. And additionally, the world, as I said, is really bad for our mental health. And we want to change that, and want to deliver a toolbox. So this is why we're working on so many drugs, because our mind is really complicated and beautiful, and there are many reasons why people sort of develop a mental health issue.

And because there are many reasons, there will also be several solutions. And we want to provide a toolbox of solutions. By the way-- and that's important to emphasize, because we haven't spoken about it-- we want to provide that to doctors and therapists, and they will then apply and they will work with the patients. So if we're talking about making psychedelics available again medically, then we mean under the guidance of a psychotherapist or a doctor. So you won't take them at home and trip alone, but you do it with a therapist together.

- Christian Angermayer, Atai Life Sciences founder and chairman, congratulations once again, and thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Again, Atai Life Sciences moving to the upside today, with shares up just around 29%.

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