The National Health Service (publicly funded healthcare system in England) has acknowledged that there could be more effective treatments for addiction—and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy could be it.
Awakn Life Sciences Corp. (NEO: AWKN) (OTCMKTS: AWKNF), a biotechnology company developing and delivering psychedelic therapeutics (medicines and therapies) to treat addiction, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with Devon Partnership NHS Trust (DPT) and University of Exeter (“UoE”).
Awakn is the first company in the world to deliver evidence-backed ketamine-assisted psychotherapy in their UK-based clinics. The NHS is the largest purchaser of healthcare services in the year (after Brazil). The MOU is a big deal for the reason that there is now a formal acknowledgment by the NHS that ketamine-assisted psychotherapy can be effective in treating Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and treatment-resistant depression better than anything they currently deliver.
The strategic relationship will investigate how to enhance the evidence base for ketamine-assisted psychotherapy and also assess how best to accelerate the on-label use of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy to treat AUD at scale. The NHS wants to work with companies like Awakn to better understand the services that can be offered in due course.
The ‘Ketamine in the Reduction of Alcoholic Relapse’ (KARE) psychotherapy intervention study, conducted by the University of Exeter (UoE) and led by Prof. Celia Morgan, Professor of Psychopharmacology at UoE and Awakn’s Head of Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for addiction, was the first controlled study in the world to investigate ketamine-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment for AUD. The trial was designed at the request of the NHS. Findings will be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry later this year, moving the phase II a/b KARE study forward into a pivotal phase III trial in the UK.
Alcohol Use Disorder is drinking that negatively impacts someone’s life, be it their personal relationships or career. And apparently, it impacts many—about 400 million people, or 5% of the planet, to be exact. Given the volume of addiction, one might assume treatment options are abundant and effective.
This is not the case.
Awakn’s CEO, Anthony Tennyson, tells The Dales Report that 75% of people who seek treatment for AUD are back drinking within 12 months of completing treatment, and 875 thousand Americans were admitted to hospital in the last 12 months for AUD for the second time or more.
“This is a massive problem that is currently poorly treated, like most addictions. But what is addiction?” he asks. “It’s a poorly treated disease that involves complex interactions between the circuitry of the brain, someone’s genetics, their life experiences, and society. It results in individuals repeatedly exhibiting behaviours and consuming substances that have a negative impact on their lives.”
Referencing research by Prof. David Nutt, AWAKN Scientific Advisory Board Chair, Tennyson says that there are essentially three levels in the brain: lower level (memory and reward), mid-level (driving factors and salience attribution [the process by which particular stimuli come to selectively grab one’s attention]), and upper level (personality and the mind).
In a steady-state brain, the cognitive part of the brain (upper) has control over the system. In a brain that has been repeatedly exposed to addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, and opioids, or addictive behaviors like gambling, pornography, or binge eating, the connection between memory and driver becomes increased, and the connection between driver and reward becomes increased as well.
All to say, the importance you place on certain memories becomes disproportionately increased, and the rewards you anticipate receiving from re-experiencing the very thing that is harming you become disproportionate, as well.
Relative to the rest of the size of your brain, the cognitive part (your personality) shrinks. The control it then has on the overall system is broken. “And that’s why people who are addicted say things like, ‘I don’t know why I ended up back in the pub, but I was just back in the pub,’ or ‘I don’t know why I went back to placing bets, I just did, even though I know it will cost me my job or my family,'” says Tennyson.
Awakn is using ketamine to disrupt the connections between the particular brain circuitry associated with addiction (like memory and reward), and inserting psychotherapy in the space that the disruption provides. “The psychotherapy allows people to understand why they have a predisposition to or have repeatedly consumed addictive substances or exhibited addictive behaviors, and sometimes, its things like trauma,” says Tennyson. “In the case of gambling disorder, the hit of dopamine that they get from placing their first bet is the biggest boost of dopamine they’ve received, and then that gets locked in as a memory.” They continue to gamble because they’re looking for that feeling, regardless of the outcome.
The signing of the MOU marks an important shift in the treatment of addiction and the awareness of the efficacy of ketamine-assisted therapies.
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