University of Melbourne unveils six start ups, announces $4.5M investment in company developing psychedelic-assisted therapies

Started at Melbourne Showcase
From left to right: Jaala Pulford, Vice Chancellor Fellow, University of Melbourne (Started@Melbourne Showcase MC) Justin Spangaro, CEO, Carbon Cybernetics Professor Jerome Sarris, Co-CEO and co-founder, Psychae Therapeutics Associate Professor Fiona Brownfoot, CMO/COO and co-founder, Kali Healthcare Jeffrey Ng, CEO, NIRGenie Associate Professor Daniel Perkins, Co-CEO and co-founder, Psychae Therapeutics

The University of Melbourne has unveiled a cohort of six early-stage startups and announced the first syndicated investment of $4.5 million by the University’s Genesis Pre-Seed Fund and Tin Alley Ventures into a start-up developing psychedelic-assisted therapies to treat mental health challenges.

Psychae Therapeutics, which will receive the $4.5 million syndicated investment, is exploring the development of medical-grade, botanically derived treatments and psychedelic-assisted therapies to treat serious mental health challenges such as PTSD, anxiety and addiction.

Co-founded by Associate Professor Daniel Perkins and Professor Jerome Sarris, Psychae Therapeutics is pioneering the burgeoning field of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

“World Health Organisation data estimate that around one billion people are living with mental health disorders, which are often chronic and intransigent,” Professor Sarris said.

“Innovative interventions which have the potential to transform the treatment of these conditions are urgently needed.”

Associate Professor Perkins said: “Psychedelic therapies are emerging as highly effective, fast-acting and safe treatments for mental disorders and addiction, with fewer side effects compared to existing medicines for conditions such as depression, PTSD and alcoholism.

“Psychae is working with the CSIRO Botanical Extracts Lab. This work is utilising CSIRO’s research and commercialisation expertise and state-of-the-art facilities to assist us in developing novel psychedelic medicines.

“This new investment will see us strengthen our business and research strategy and capabilities to achieve medical registration of botanically derived pharmaceutical grade medicines for suitable patient cohorts,” he said.

The six start-ups unveiled at the Started@Melbourne Showcase were:

  • Kali Healthcare - developing a new at-home portable AI-powered pregnancy monitoring system, including a wearable device to provide more accessible monitoring for expectant mothers.
  • NIRGenie – a Bionics Institute spinout company, it has designed and developed EarGenie which provides clinicians with information critical to the early intervention of hearing loss and language delay.
  • Carbon Cybernetics - dramatically transforming the lives of millions of people suffering from neurological and psychiatric disorders through transformative treatments.
  • Melbourne Pollen - providing Victorians with pollen forecasts and helping people track their individual hay fever symptoms via the Melbourne Pollen app.
  • Tiny Bright Things - developing light microscopy tools to enable imaging and measurement at any length scale, at speed.
  • Torch Recruit – a recruitment platform designed to simplify and optimize the hiring process for clinical trials, key to the development of new medical treatments and diagnostic tests.

The Started@Melbourne Showcase is a part of the University of Melbourne’s ongoing commitment to supporting the creation and growth of significant new entrepreneurial opportunities for world-class researchers, students and alumni as well as medical research institutes and hospitals affiliated with the University of Melbourne.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor, Professor Duncan Maskell, said this critical early investment from the University’s Genesis Pre-Seed Fund and Tin Alley Ventures demonstrates how the University of Melbourne is seeking to support more strongly research translation and increase the potential of the University’s early-stage ventures.

“Research impact is a key part of what the University is striving to achieve,” Professor Maskell said. “In the past five years, we have created opportunities for researchers to have impact in different ways.

“That includes putting more resources in place, such as the new investment funds, which enable our researchers to have impact through external collaboration and commercialisation. These funds provide significant value for our start-ups through the strength and expertise of their investment teams and associated global networks.”

Dr Andrew McLean, managing partner at Tin Alley Ventures, said psychedelic therapies are emerging as an important tool to help solve a significant global mental health epidemic.

“Psychae’s focus on developing high-quality, data-driven medical-grade medicines, accompanied by innovative new therapies and treatment platforms makes them a highly attractive investment for our fund,” Dr McLean said.

Grant Dooley, Breakthrough Victoria CEO, said: “This investment into Psychae is a great example of catalysing the commercialisation of research into companies which can have a real impact on people’s lives. We are delighted this comes from our partnership with the University of Melbourne Genesis Pre-Seed Fund.”

Recently appointed Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Jaala Pulford, who is former Victorian Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and Digital Economy, hosted the Started@Melbourne Showcase at the Science Gallery at Melbourne Connect.