Yaron Conforti is a veteran entrepreneur and investor in venture-stage companies, with a longstanding interest in psychedelics. He is the Co-founder, Chief Executive Officer, and Director of Novamind, which focuses on building clinics, research sites, and protocols to serve the regulated psychedelics industry.
PsyTech: How did you get into the psychedelics industry?
Yaron: Throughout my career, I’ve been focused on frontier investing, helping build businesses in emerging industries, sometimes in emerging jurisdictions on a global scale. In 2019, my co-founders and I looked closely at existing data and the state of psychedelic medicine and we realized that not only was there an incredible opportunity to build a sustainable business, but more importantly we saw an opportunity to help a lot of people. The third component was a more personal one, based on my lifelong interest in psychedelics.
PsyTech: What, in your opinion, is the biggest misconception out there about psychedelics?
Yaron: There are widespread misconceptions about the harm profile of psychedelic compounds. On the contrary, clinical data has shown that these compounds have a significantly lower harm profile when compared to traditional alternatives such as opioids. With many of these traditional options, there are serious concerns about long-term negative effects, including addiction to those treatment medications themselves, and even potential fatalities.
PsyTech: There are plenty of curious or misinformed people out there. What’s one thing you’d like the general public to know about psychedelics?
Yaron: The most important point I’d like to convey is that psychedelics provide alternatives to people suffering from mental health conditions who have not responded positively to currently available treatments. Psychedelic medicine and experiences provide alternatives for treatment-resistant mental health conditions such as addiction, depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, etc. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 300 million people suffer from depression, and one-third of those are treatment-resistant, so the potential impact of psychedelic medicine on humanity is tremendously meaningful.
However, psychedelics are not a panacea and different compounds work in different ways for different people. With the range of psychedelic molecules, indications, and therapies that are used, we can find alternative therapeutics where none existed before. Psychedelics can provide highly effective treatments faster than traditional treatments/therapies that sometimes take years of iterations, resulting in needless suffering.
PsyTech: What is the biggest issue currently holding the industry back?
Yaron: Regulation – first and foremost, patients are looking to access these experiences safely and legally. We have seen some good news on this front in recent months/years. For instance, it appears most likely that in the U.S., MDMA will be the first legalized psychedelic compound. We are also quite encouraged by the passing of Measure 109 in Oregon and the decriminalization movement gaining momentum across the U.S.
In the meantime, we’ve invested in the Synthesis Institute in the Netherlands, where psilocybin is sanctioned, and we can provide access through our network to legal, medically supervised treatments in a jurisdiction where that regulation is already well established.
PsyTech: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to anyone interested in getting into the psychedelics industry?
Yaron: The same advice that I gave myself – set an intention to use your particular skill set to help others and to help move the industry forward. There’s an enormous amount of work to do, so focus your energy and contribute in a way that leads to the ‘whole’ becoming greater than ‘the sum of its parts.’
PsyTech: What’s the question you get asked the most when someone finds out you’re involved in psychedelics?
Yaron: Is it legal? And where can I access it safely?
PsyTech: Do you get any pushback, as someone involved in this industry? If so, how do you respond?
Yaron: At Novamind, we are building the business as a group of like-minded people who are very passionate about the potential of psychedelic medicine. This includes the people we engage with, the acquisitions and investments we’ve made, and the strategic partnerships we’re continually working on – both in the clinical therapeutic space and in the clinical research space. Thus far, I have not experienced any pushback. But I’m sure there will be skeptics along the way, as you’d expect in any emerging/groundbreaking industry.
PsyTech: What are the biggest hurdles in the space right now? And how have those hurdles evolved in general over the past few years?
Yaron: There is a shortage of trained practitioners who can provide treatments and therapy safely and legally. And it’s not just a matter of trained practitioners, but from an industry perspective, we need to closely monitor the diversity of those practitioners as well. The makeup of our world must be reflected in the practitioners, for obvious reasons and also for reasons that may be less obvious. We’re less likely to marginalize particular groups if we’re training practitioners and thought leaders from those groups. The medical science leaders that lead Novamind are the thought leaders in the space providing training, so we are closely engaged in solving that problem.
The second hurdle I want to highlight is actually more of a systemic problem. These therapies can be cost-prohibitive because the protocols and the associated time and costs preclude certain groups from accessing treatments. As soon as the benchmark is set at a price point that certain segments of society can’t access, you risk marginalizing large groups of people. We’re looking at alternative ways to facilitate these treatments in order to make them accessible to the largest number of people possible.
PsyTech: What was the initial reaction when your friends and family heard you were involved in the psychedelics industry?
Yaron: No one was surprised, because I’ve been interested in psychedelics for a long time, and I’ve had a lifelong passion for working on esoteric projects and building businesses that other people won’t or can’t. So it wasn’t a surprise to my friends and family to see me working in an industry that’s entering a new paradigm. I’m grateful that my skillset and circumstance allow me to contribute to this industry in a meaningful way.
PsyTech would like to thank Yaron for his compelling thoughts on psychedelics and their optimized applications. We’re also grateful to Novamind for their kind sponsorship of our recent summit.