In late April of 2019, both the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) and the World Intellectual Property Office (“WIPO”) published Compass Pathways’s Patent Applications directed to psilocybin technology. These applications were previously unavailable for public inspection, which led some journalists to speculate that Compass Pathways was creating a “magic mushroom monopoly.”
Now that Compass’s patent applications have published, it seems clear that they have no intentions of creating an expansive patent portfolio or stifling R&D by other entities. To the contrary, their patent claims are extremely narrow, bordering on insignificant. Thus, fears that Compass Pathways has been creating a “magic mushroom monopoly” have been drastically overstated. By way of analogy, Compass Pathways has claimed a few grains of sand in the middle of a vast desert– not the entire desert.
Despite widespread concern that Compass’s patent portfolio would impede psilocybin science, their patent portfolio probably won’t affect psilocybin research or commerce in any meaningful way. Again referring to the analogy of a few grains of sand in the desert:
- There are over 180 known species of psilocybin containing “magic” mushrooms
- Those magic mushrooms contain many active ingredients — psilocybin is just one of them.
- Psilocybin can exist in many forms, including mushrooms, mushroom preparations, crude mushroom extracts, separated/isolated psilocybin, or synthetic psilocybin.
- Synthetic psilocybin can exist in many forms, including crystalline material.
- Pure crystalline psilocybin can exist in a variety of different crystalline forms, aka “polymorphs.”
- Compass has claimed (but not yet received a patent for) two specific crystalline forms.
The figure below shows how magic mushrooms can be extracted and separated into individual active molecules. Instead of extracting those molecules (e.g., psilocybin) from a mushroom each of them could be made synthetically in a chemical laboratory.
Concerns about Compass Pathways Monopolizing Psilocybin
Over the past year, Compass Pathways has received considerable attention for its commercial interests in psilocybin technology. Compass Pathways is presently conducting clinical trials for administering pure synthetic psilocybin to patients with Treatment Resistant Depression. Compass Pathways is poised to become the first legal provider of pure synthetic psilocybin.
Because of a somewhat anti-capitalist reaction towards commercializing psilocybin, Compass has been the subject of considerable criticism. Much of this criticism has focused on Compass’s filing of several patent applications related to psilocybin. Robert Jesse of John’s Hopkins University fears that corporate influence could create a landscape “clogged by proprietary methods, restrictive licensing, exclusive contracts, patents, and the like.”
In November of 2018, Olivia Goldhill wrote an article in Quartz, stating that “A millionaire couple is threatening to create a magic mushroom monopoly,” referring to Compass’s founders George Goldsmith and Katya Malievskaia.
In her article, Ms. Goldhill explained that Compass was “well ahead of other institutions working in this field—and a recently filed patent application could help the company stay ahead.”
“Compass Pathways has relied on conventional pharmaceutical-industry tactics that could help them dominate the field, including blocking potential rivals’ ability to purchase drugs, filing an application for a manufacturing patent, and requiring contracts that give Compass power over academics’ research and are restrictive even by pharmaceutical-industry standards.
Responding to concerns about the implication of their patent portfolio, Compass Pathways told Quartz “our patents will not restrict research in the field, or preclude others from creating different solutions for the synthesis and formulation of psilocybin.”
In her article, Ms. Goldhill conceded “It’s not clear what exactly would be covered by the patent.” Now that Compass’s patent application has published, it appears that Compass was telling the truth. Their patents will not restrict research in the field, or preclude others from creating different solutions for the synthesis and formulation of psilocybin.
Compass’s patent application is extremely narrow. It does not create a threat of any sort of “magic mushroom monopoly.”
Compass Pathways’ Published Patent Applications
Compass Pathways United States Patent Application Number 16/155,386 published on April 25, 2019 as U.S. Patent Application Publication Number 2019/0119310. International Patent Application Number PCT/IB2018/057811 published on April 18, 2018 as WO2019073379A1. Both of these applications claim priority dating back to the British Application Number GB1716505.1, filed on October 9, 2017. Both applications claim extremely narrow subject matter.
The claimed subject matter is extremely narrow because all of the claims are limited to one specific crystalline form of psilocybin. Currently pending claim 1 recites:
1 . Crystalline psilocybin in the form Polymorph A or
Polymorph A ‘ , characterised by one or more of :
a . peaks in an XRPD diffractogram at 11 . 5 , 12 . 0 and
14 . 5°20 + 0 . 1°20 ;
b . peaks in an XRPD diffractogram at 11 . 5 , 12 . 0 and
14 . 5°20 + 0 . 1°20 , further characterised by at least one
further peak at 19 . 7 , 20 . 4 , 22 . 2 , 24 . 3 or 25 . 7°20 + 0 .
c . an XRPD diffractogram as substantially illustrated in
FIG . 7a or 7b ; or
d . an endothermic event in a DSC thermogram having an
onset temperature of between 205 and 220° C . substantially as illustrated in FIG . 8a or 8b .
Compass’s claims do not read on previously known forms of psilocybin. Compass’s claims have nothing to do with “magic mushrooms.” Compass’s claims have nothing to do with the other active ingredients found in magic mushrooms. In short, Compass’s claims are only relevant the particular crystalline form of psilocybin created and used by Compass.
Unless they use Compass’s specific process and crystalline form(s), other entities would be unaffected in their ability to make, use, or sell psilocybin or the other active ingredients in magic mushrooms.
Similarly, other entities would be unaffected in their ability to make, use, or sell other prodrugs of psilocin, such as psilacetin. They would also be unaffected in their ability to make, use, or sell any varieties of magic mushrooms.
The only monopoly sought by Compass Pathways is for the right to make, use, or sell their extremely narrow and specific form(s) of synthetic psilocybin. Compass claims ownership of new crystalline forms of psilocybin on account of their intellectual contribution to the crystallization of psilocybin. Compass’s new/inventive crystallization step is described in detail within Example 1 at paragraph 285 of the published application. In short, the crystallization method involves dissolving crude psilocybin in hot water and then gradually cooling the water. The process is similar to making rock candy from sugar.
Compass’s method of making psilocybin is also disclosed in the application. Their method is best described as an optimized version of a procedure that was published in the Journal of Natural Products 2003, volume 66, pages 885-887. Compass claims to have optimized this method for making larger batches of psilocybin: “In contrast to the prior art, the present invention sought to produce psilocybin at a commercial large scale.” Para. 276.
Concerns about Compass Pathways monopolizing magic mushrooms or psilocybin have been drastically overstated. Based on their recently published patent applications, Compass is only claiming a new crystalline form of psilocybin. The patentability of that “new” form has yet to be determined. During examination of the claims, a patent examiner will determine whether crystallizing psilocybin from water to afford Compass’s “new” forms represents a patentable advance beyond the prior art. Either way, Compass is highly unlikely to impede scientific progress with its patent portfolio.