There is increasing awareness (in part due to COVID-19) that mental ill-health can affect anyone under certain circumstances, and that mental ill-health can be prevalent in society. 

Within this context, it may be an opportune time to analyse promising and/or effective therapies that have not yet entered mainstream therapy for mental ill-health, likely because of regulatory impediments. One such class of therapy would be psychedelic therapy.

On 25 August 2021, Mind Medicine Australia (MMA) released a media alert urgently calling for the Australian Federal and State governments to enable psychedelic-assisted therapies to be used to treat severely ill patients who desperately need safe and effective treatments. MMA noted that current treatments achieve remission rates for depression of around 30-35% and for PTSD only around 5%. In contrast, MMA noted that psychedelic-assisted therapy with psilocybin and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) achieved remission rates for depression and PTSD of between 60 and 80% after just 2 to 3 treatments in combination with a short course of psychotherapy. In Australia, psilocybin and MDMA are classified by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Schedule 9 as Prohibited Substances.

Despite this contrast in therapeutic efficacy, MMA highlighted what it referred to as an absurd situation preventing such therapy. Specifically, psychiatrists in Australia can obtain approval from the TGA to use substances such as these in medically-controlled environments as part of psychotherapy, but are unable to do so because the States and Territories of Australia (except Victoria) do not have a permit system allowing access to Schedule 9 substances.

In July 2020, MMA applied to have certain psychedelics reclassified from Schedule 9 to Schedule 8 as Controlled Drugs. In a further media release dated 1 October 2021, MMA announced that the TGA had moved one step closer to rescheduling MDMA and psilocybin in Australia upon release of the TGA’s Independent Expert Panel on MDMA and psilocybin on 30 September 2021. The Panel searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of MDMA and psilocybin with either inactive or active controls, reviewed the outcomes, and conducted a meta-analysis on the studies. The Panel demonstrated statistically significant differences of the two psychedelic agents between both inactive and active treatments and noted that both agents were well-tolerated. The Panel concluded that:

…MDMA and psilocybin may show promise in highly selected populations but only where these medicines are administered in closely clinically supervised settings and with intensive professional support.

The Panel’s report will be considered by the Advisory Committee of Medicines Scheduling (ACMS) on 3 November 2021, with a final decision anticipated to be published the first week of December 2021.

If psychedelics are to achieve their promise in treating mental ill-health, what tools are available to promote and reward innovation and commercialisation in bringing improved therapies to market? With this question in mind, we address below two aspects of registrable intellectual property (IP), patents and plant breeder rights (PBRs), that could contribute to advancing psychedelic therapies.

Patents

According to the Poisons Standard June 2021 (a legislative instrument made under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989), Schedule 9 is described as (emphasis added):

Prohibited Substance – Substances which may be abused or misused, the manufacture, possession, sale or use of which should be prohibited by law except when required for medical or scientific research, or for analytical, teaching or training purposes with approval of Commonwealth and/or State or Territory Health Authorities.

Schedule 9 contains substances that should be available only for teaching, training, medical or scientific research including clinical trials conducted with the approval of Commonwealth and/or State and Territory health authorities. Although appearing as a Schedule in this Standard, the method by which it is implemented in the States and Territories may vary.

Section 50(1)(a) of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) provides that (emphasis added):

The Commissioner may refuse to accept a request and specification relating to a standard patent, or to grant a standard patent for an invention the use of which would be contrary to law.

Accordingly, by use of discretionary rather than mandatory language, and despite Schedule 9 being for “Prohibited Substances”, neither the Patents Act 1990 nor the Poisons Standard June 2021 appear to prohibit patenting a Schedule 9 psychedelic.

Having said that, MDMA was developed by Merck in 1912 and psilocybin was isolated from the mushroom Psilocybe mexicana in 1959, so clearly, these psychedelics are not new, and therefore cannot be afforded patent protection, because they lack novelty. However, patent protection would be available for new and non-obvious:

  • derivatives with improved characteristics
  • genetically modified organisms producing a psychedelic or derivative
  • processes for production, isolation and/or formulation
  • combination formulations
  • treatment indications
  • patient sub-groups
  • methods for identifying patients amenable to treatment
  • dosage regimens
  • administration devices

In other words, despite some psychedelics with therapeutic benefits being known, there remains ample scope to develop patent coverage to promote commercialisation of psychedelic therapies.

Plant breeder/variety rights

In addition to the potential for obtaining patent coverage for genetically modified organisms producing a psychedelic or derivative, it would also be possible to obtain PBR if the genetically modified organism was a new variety of plant, fungus or alga (but not a bacterium, bacteroid, mycoplasma, virus, viroid or bacteriophage).

Further, PBR may be granted in addition to a patent. The terms of each form of IP may run concurrently, but conceivably, a new plant variety could be generated and covered by PBR after filing a patent application or even after grant of a patent to which the new variety relates. This could extend IP coverage related to a psychedelic or derivative beyond that of a patent. Notably, and in contrast to patents, PBRs run from the date of grant rather than the date of filing. For most plants, the term is 20 years, but for trees and some vines, the term is 25 years. As such, a PBR could extend considerably beyond a patent for related plant technology.

Other IP

Although we have discussed patents and PBRs, other forms of registrable IP such as trade marks (protecting a badge of origin) and designs (protecting visual appearance) may also be important for promoting commercialisation and bringing psychedelic therapies to market.

How we can help

At Griffith Hack, we are client-centric. We reduce complexity in and maximise the impact of your IP to target commercial results for you. We are experts in all areas of IP. In particular, we have extensive experience in managing IP protection for Scheduled substances such as opioids and cannabis extracts. Together, our technically diverse patents, trade marks and legal teams can assist you with protecting and commercialising innovative psychedelic therapies as the regulatory framework develops. So please contact us if you wish to explore IP strategies for psychedelic therapies.

Griffith Hack is thrilled to formally announce the elevation of two high-performing team members to the position of Principal (effective as of 1 January, 2020). Lawyer Gavin Adkins and Patent Attorney Robyn Heard have been key contributors in Griffith Hack’s Melbourne and Sydney offices (respectively); Gavin joining Griffith Hack as an Associate in 2015 and Robyn as a trainee in 2003.

Executive General Manager David Madigan said the decision was an important signal for the Griffith Hack’s future. 

“Gavin and Robyn’s addition to our leadership group reinforces the firms’ commitment to delivering exceptional client service and top-tier technical expertise. It also demonstrates the genuine opportunities available to those with the skills required to meet our clients’ current and future needs. I congratulate both Gavin and Robyn on this milestone achievement”.

Robyn Heard – Patent Attorney

Robyn has specialist knowledge and experience in the patenting of technologies for Universities, and companies from start-ups and small to medium entities and large corporations in the areas of IT, software and computer system based inventions, telecommunications, electronics, data analytics, e-health and medical devices.

“While working as an engineer I met a patent attorney and thought ‘that sounds like a really interesting job’.  A few years later, at a career crossroads, I decided to take a chance and go for that interesting job. I was hired by Griffith Hack as a trainee, and learned just how interesting and challenging being a patent attorney can be – balancing IP law with commercial strategies for various technologies. It is an honour to now step up beside the attorneys who trained and mentored me over the years, to lead our Sydney Electrical & IT patent team”

Gavin Adkins – Lawyer

Gavin is most passionate about IP litigation and disputes, but also has prior experience as a patent attorney. In previous roles and during his time at Griffith Hack, Gavin has assisted clients with litigation raising issues in patents, designs, trade marks, the Australian Consumer Law, contractual disputes, domain names and copyright infringement. Gavin was recognised in Managing Intellectual Property’s IP Rising Stars list for 2018 and 2019.

“When I finished my law degree I got on a plane to Japan to work at a patent attorney firm. I didn’t even know what a patent was when I accepted the job. 13 and a half years later, I am incredibly humbled to be appointed a Principal of Griffith Hack. It’s a pleasure to work with great colleagues on interesting and challenging IP disputes for our clients”.