Lykos Therapeutics Highlights the Not-For-Profit to For-Profit Pipeline in Psychedelics

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, recently rebranded their public benefit corporation to Lykos Therapeutics, which is slated to bring us pharmaceutical MDMA in 2024.

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DoubleBlind Mag

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Updated February 17, 2024

DoubleBlind Mag is devoted to fair, rigorous reporting by leading experts and journalists in the field of psychedelics. Read more about our editorial process and fact-checking here.

This article is an OpEd written by a satirist 

On January 5, 2024, the psychedelic sector juggernaut famously known as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Public Benefit Corporation (MAPS PBC) publicly announced its rebranding to Lykos Therapeutics and a corresponding closure of a $100 million Series A oversubscribed financing round. 

“Oversubscribed” is a nice touch — it echoes how MAPS supporters and donors acted over the last nearly four decades while pumping donations into the nonprofit mission they naively subscribed to. 

After 37-and-a half-years of pioneering a community-driven and philanthropically-funded model of psychedelic advocacy and activism—with the goal of making MDMA an FDA-approved medicine through a not-for-profit approach—the golden beacon of hope that was once a non-corporate psychedelic leader has definitively folded into a business-as-usual pharmaceutical conglomerate driven by shareholder capitalism and intense regulatory scrutiny. 

READ: MDMA Therapy is Almost Legal—But Who Will Have Access?

The roots have become the suits. But is the dichotomy between the nonprofit psychedelic medicine model and the for-profit pharmaceutical approach as clear-cut as some people—occasionally, including myself—make it out to be?

Are there not unique benefits, opportunities, and generally positive growth edges inherent to each of these respective approaches? Sure, seeing these positives may require a suspension of an “us versus them” mentality that often pervades politically charged and socially consequential paradigm shifts. But does that mean they’re not there?

The first steps of MAPS’ transition from nonprofit psychedelic research advocates to a for-profit pharmaceutical company began in earnest with the bifurcation of the organization in 2014. MAPS PBC was established as a separate entity from the original nonprofit in anticipation of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. For the next decade, these two organizations with vastly different end goals presented themselves as a unified front, despite having diametrically opposing motives. One part of MAPS was claiming to be working towards ending the Drug War and campaigning for the decriminalization of psychedelics, while the other side was working towards commercializing psychedelics through rigidly hierarchical state-regulated frameworks. 

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At a certain level, one has to respect the bait-and-switch messaging deployed by MAPS on their trajectory toward bringing pharmaceutical MDMA to market. It’s not disingenuous to give it your all and fail to capitalize on the unrealistic promises made to the public and generous philanthropists who ultimately fund lavish trips to SXSW, Davos, and a hundred other conferences that invite you to share the gospel of how to run a not-for-profit and community-driven business. But, realistically, businesses almost always find it necessary to capitalize on something else: the goodwill and faith of the public, which is apparently convertible to cold hard cash. 

In fact, MDMA therapy in Australia already costs upwards of $25,000 a head per treatment to give you a realistic ballpark of the amount of money Lykos is looking to make from this pharmaceutical venture.

That’s not to say the landscape and capital-intensiveness around potential FDA-approved MDMA therapy hasn’t evolved in the years since Rick Doblin, the founder of MAPS, first established the organization in San Jose, California, in 1986.

At the time, MDMA was a niche drug favored by couples doing underground therapy and the Dallas club scene among other niche demographics. The 1980’s psychedelia zeitgeist is indeed a far cry from the MAPS-sponsored Psychedelic Science conference in June of 2023, where high-profile bipartisan politicians and A-list celebrities spoke openly about their personal connections to psychedelics in a Denver convention center that attracted 13,000 people, including the world’s most prolific media outlets that fastidiously covered every angle of the scene. 

“For 38 years, people thought that the vision of making MDMA a medicine through nonprofit efforts was outrageously unattainable,” says Betty Aldworth, Director of Communications for MAPS. “So we had decades of people telling us it couldn’t be done.” 

Despite the inherent altruism, it was always an unrealistic goal. “I think I can count on one hand the number of drugs that are available that were brought to market by a nonprofit,” Aldworth says. “We had a beautiful vision that didn’t exactly come to fruition in the way that we imagined it.”

To be fair, we have to give credit where credit is due. Throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Doblin and MAPS carried the psychedelic research and advocacy torch through the dark night of psychedelic stigma, when admitting to MDMA or LSD use branded you as a nefarious drug user or long-haired hippy freak in polite society. 

The MAPS team prided itself on doing things differently, sourcing their funding from a distributed pool of one-time and monthly donors who shared a belief that going through the FDA and cooperating with the United States government to make MDMA a sanctioned medicine was a noble aspiration that didn’t require the abdication of community-driven and “purpose over profit” values.

But then they needed more money.

“This pivotal moment underscores the intricate dynamic between philanthropy and practicality in drug development,” says Maria Velkova, managing partner of the innovative healthcare-focused venture fund Tabula Rasa Ventures. “Rick Doblin’s vision of launching MDMA-[assisted therapy] powered solely by philanthropy clashed with the harsh economic realities of the pharmaceutical landscape, where the average cost of bringing a new drug to market soared to $6.7 billion in 2020.” 

Maria and her team recently hosted Doblin to speak on a psychedelic medicine panel at a healthcare conference in Abu Dhabi, an event that demonstrates the extraordinary shift in the global perspective on psychedelics. 

“This staggering figure highlights the financial and bureaucratic challenges inherent in our legacy healthcare systems, which have been shaped by over a century of incremental evolution, making them notoriously resistant to disruptive innovation,” Velkova says. 

READ: “Candy Flipping” Might Reduce Challenging Psychedelic Experiences

Velkova explains that the goal of Tabula Rasa Ventures is to uplift and support organizations like MAPS that could bring an innovative approach to healthcare. “We recognize the formidable obstacles in altering these antiquated systems to accommodate groundbreaking healthcare interventions and delivery methods. Rather than attempting to retrofit old frameworks, we advocate for the consideration of establishing new systems and partnerships. These would need to be designed to meet the evolving needs of human health, emphasizing personalization, holistic care, prevention, and democratized accessibility.”

While the economic realities of bringing a psychedelic drug to market in this era are undeniably challenging, it’s impossible to ignore MAPS’ decades of public relations and fundraising efforts centered around the explicit premises of forging a new path to legal access and not going through the traditional pharmaceutical route—and then doing exactly that. 

As a satirist, it’s my moral duty to roast the fuck out of MAPS for the next few paragraphs. As a disclaimer: Please take my following statements with a grain of MDMA.

Lykos must be Greek for “disingenuous carnival barker,” because any shred of integrity that the for-profit arm of the MAPS organization had left disappeared into the ether with their recent rebrand. In fact, if they could, MAPS would probably try to patent and monopolize the Ether cryptocurrency market and claim that doing so gets us all one step closer to “Net Zero Trauma.”

I wonder if PBC actually stands for “Please Be Cash,” as the entire MAPS ethos has nose-dived down the slippery slope between public benefit and corporate capture. 

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And how is it that grassroots organizations like Baystaters and Decriminalize Nature have managed to establish psychedelic “decriminalization models” in over a dozen cities in the U.S. while MAPS, which frequently boasts of the $140 million they’ve raised in philanthropic donations over the last 37 years, has not managed to do so in even a single city despite self-congratulatory public claims that they’ve been diligently working to do so?

It turns out that frequent team trips to Burning Man, Davos, SXSW, and similar psychedelic hot spots add up and require more philanthropy dollars to buttress the nonprofit industrial complex. But what happens when the nonprofit industrial complex outpaces itself? 

Then it’s time to rebrand as a pharmaceutical company—but only after years of fundraising rhetoric boasting about doing the exact opposite!

The English language has a word for that: Hypocrite. Perhaps hypocrisy can also be rebranded and ameliorated into the “Hippocratic Oath:”  “We’re not hypocrites! We’re *Hippocratic oath takers*”

There’s a fine line between a hypocrite and a Hippocratic Oath-taker: One of these two uses philanthropic donations to fund staff cuddle puddles at Burning Man, and the other is a medical professional!

Of grave concern to many is MAPS’ deep connection to the U.S. Military and the Pentagon. 

It turns out “de-risking an investment” is actually much easier when your collaborators have the most advanced weaponry and largest standing army on the planet.

I wonder if Lykos Therapeutics has a good relationship with Raytheon or Lockheed Martin yet. I can make an intro if needed. Why settle for using MDMA therapy to extend the operability of active duty military when you can have the whole pie? Theaters of war are generally also the pretext for reconstruction efforts, which tend to take several generations and may require lots of MDMA-assisted therapy for refugees and survivors of war trauma under the direction of the alphabet agencies and their MDMA-peddling minions. 

I can see it now: A Broadway musical starring Doblin as a 4-star general introducing SEAL Team 6 to Lykos branded Molly as they hunt down the political opposition in a country none of them have ever heard of, while peasant villagers cheer them on from the newly established refugee camps. 

Or better yet, maybe Doblin and company will do a Village People-style oeuvre on the deck of the USS Nimitz, with all the sailors peaking on MDMA while dancing around the machine gun turrets. 

If the military utilizes MDMA across departments, I’d imagine that the Space Force would provide the coolest set and setting

I, for one, still believe that we can reach net zero trauma by 2070, as long as there are no poor people still around. 

Rumor has it that the terms of the restructuring endow each Lykos board member with a golden parachute in addition to voting shares. The package in this case consists of a giant golden parachute of Molly.   

Maybe Rick Doblin and Christian Angermayer can do MDMA on a yacht together and claim moral superiority over the unwashed masses—now that’s what I call market exclusivity! 

Pointed satire aside, I welcome our new psychedelic industry pharmaceutical overlords. I have been waiting for the right window of opportunity to become a class traitor, and the forthcoming institutional money that may soon pour into the psychedelic sector as a result of prospective FDA approval for MDMA-assisted therapy means that free agents and dissenting perspectives such as those I peddle here may finally have a chance at also being co-opted by the establishment.

I stand ready to switch sides and become a mouthpiece and cheerleader for the military-industrial complex and corporatocracy—and am deeply grateful to MAPS for forging this path ahead into the brave new world for the rest of us unprincipled sycophants. 

Have You Heard…?

Legal MDMA therapy might be just around the corner—but many questions remain. Who is going to pay for this treatment? Will it be covered by insurance? Who will qualify?

MDMA therapy is increasinglt more accessible. But, molly remains a popular underground pastime. Journalist Delilah Friedler has the details on a new trend—purple molly.

Experts say blue molly might contain more adulterants. So, what do you do? “One way to make the experience safer in the current legal environment is testing the substance you plan to imbibe,” says Dan Burns of DanceWize NSW. 

DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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