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Lykos Therapeutics Quietly Moves to Patent MDMA

Lykos Therapeutics, formerly known as MAPS PBC, files patent applications on various elements of the MDMA molecule and its applications.

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DoubleBlind // News // Science

In a shocking move that contradicts its previous stance on intellectual property, Lykos Therapeutics (formerly known as MAPS PBC) — the organization leading the movement to legalize MDMA-assisted therapy — has filed multiple patent applications for specific forms and formulations of MDMA. Prior to this revelation, which was first reported on by Psychedelic Alpha, Lykos had long been praised in the psychedelic community and media for its “altruistic stance” in not seeking patent protections as part of its strategy, instead choosing to publish its research findings in scientific literature. 

MAPS’s anti-patent stance, which intended to prevent MDMA from being monopolized, stood in stark contrast to the aggressive patent strategies of competitors like Compass Pathways and Atai Life Sciences. Rick Doblins, the founder of MAPS, had been analyzing the non-patentable status of MDMA since the late ‘80s, and in an article titled “MDMA Patentability and Orphan Drug Designation,” published in 1992, he wrote: “It could be a major setback if MAPS funded MDMA research and secured approval for its medical use only to have someone else control it through an inexpensively obtained use patent.” 

READ: Lykos Therapeutics Highlights the Non-Profit to For-Profit Pipeline in Psychedelics

In a cover story interview with Life Science Leader in 2022, Amy Emerson, CEO of MAPS PBC, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the company was not interested in using patents to discourage other companies from competing in the emerging psychedelic therapy space. “Our mandate is to advance public benefit through access to healing,” wrote MAPS in 2022. 

MDMA itself cannot be patented because the compound was first synthesized in 1912 by a German pharmaceutical company called Merck, and patented by the company two years later. That original patent has long expired, and the compound has been described in scientific literature as early as 1927, making it part of the public domain. In order to be eligible for a patent, an invention must be “novel,” which means that it is new and not disclosed in publicly accessible documents. 

However, new formulations or methods of synthesizing MDMA can be patented, along with novel therapeutic or medical uses that have not been previously discovered. Between March and December 2023, Lykos moved to file four patent applications, seeking to cover MDMA having specific particle size; as a method of treating an eating disorder; and having other specific compositions and dosage forms in the process of manufacturing the drug on a mass scale. 

MAPS/Lykos’ reversal of its previous anti-patent stance is seen by many in the industry as a capitulation to its corporate stakeholders in a current psychedelic landscape dominated by hundreds of for-profit pharmaceutical companies racing to corner the market through aggressive IP strategies. As Psychedelic Alpha has reported, its stance on patents has been quietly evolving over the years, and may reflect how challenging the commercialization of MDMA-assisted therapy will be. 

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