With Ahmad Doroudian, PhD, CEO at BetterLife Pharma
BetterLife Pharma CEO Ahmad Doroudian (PhD) sits down with TCF co-founding partner Henri Sant-Cassia for our latest edition of Conscious Conversations as they discuss unique value proposition, psychedelic investment, and how the future of psychedelic medicine is looking to shape up. BetterLife is focused on developing second generation psychedelic compounds, and nutraceuticals; addressing unmet needs within mental health, wellness and anti-aging industries without the hallucinogenic effects.
Would you like to introduce yourself and give a brief background on what you’ve been doing? What Better Life is all about?
Sure, thank you Henri and I’m really glad to be here. We are a biotech company engaged in developing novel formulations based on IP that checks all the science and clinical backgrounds that we can to make an impact on some huge unmet needs. My team are all experienced pharma, drug development people, that have worked for large pharmaceutical companies and have a great track record in getting drugs approved by the FDA and other regulatory bodies.
On my personal background, I do have a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences. The last 30 years or so I’ve been in the pharmaceutical business, mostly on the business side, putting proper structures together, capitalizing the company, and taking the business through its various growth stages from private all the way to a NASDAQ listed company. Lately, especially in the last couple of years, we’ve been involved in some really interesting projects. The latest is in the psychedelic space and is now our primary development program. We are developing non-hallucinogenic compounds that can treat mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and other neuropsychiatric ailments. We’re very excited about this space. We know the implications of making a difference in this and are working hard towards getting our lead product before the FDA by the end of this year.
Thank you. Given your background, I want to start by asking, what is your view of the importance of venture investment funds to companies that are going towards a public listing? Did Better Life have venture funding earlier in its cycle? And have you utilized venture funding in the run up to going public in your previous companies?
I’ve used venture funds in my previous companies, but not in Better Life. Better Life’s structure was different. It amalgamated with my private company which was funded mostly through two or three investment groups. These were private funds that had known me and supported my projects before. However, I think these venture funds, especially in the US, play a very integral role in getting companies off the ground. They are important for startups that are not ready for public rollout and can’t get private money because it’s just too risky. The size that they bring to the table is quite important especially in the biotech space.
Thank you. Yes. It’s all about taking those risky early investments and helping the companies scale. You are already public. Is being a public market CEO as onerous as investors feel it must be? Is it a lot of additional oversight and filings? And do you feel that being publicly listed still has key advantages that outweigh those hassles?
Yes, it is onerous, and there are lots of extra things that you need to do as the CEO and be mindful of, especially financial reporting, compliance, and governance. So if you’re not experienced, a lot of startups are not aware of the additional time and costs that you need to run a public company. As long as you can remain private and advance your programs, I think that’s usually the preferred route. But on the other hand, access to capital markets, when you’re ready, is the best thing in the world. I think that’s where the liquidity of the capital markets, especially in the US, plays a big role in creating and funding innovation and advancement for projects such as ours.
You need to raise on an almost continual basis with this type of company because you have to do a whole range of very costly tasks around clinical trials and development of medicines. The capital markets are the fastest route to that ongoing kind of investment and liquidity. Is that the key bonus, or the key attraction for bioscience companies? The public markets enable you to raise money quicker than you would going through endless venture rounds,
Yes, especially these days. The liquidity is there. People who are not in this space don’t really understand what it takes to get a drug through various stages of regulatory preclinical and clinical approval. So, having that access to public markets and having the support of the institutions that can trade your stock and are stable, longer term shareholders is invaluable to advancing through those various stages.
Thank you. I know you’re about to open a round. What is the mix of investors that you’re looking for? Are you looking for funds, family offices, institutions?
I think for us, at our current stage, we are looking for institutions. We are looking for a little more mature, longer term, investors. We want institutions that see the next 12, 24, 36 months and have the capability to analyze it properly, proper institutional equity traders. There’s a lot of know-how and complexity in getting behind a company such as ours. It’s not just buying the stock at a certain price and hopefully hitting a target then selling it. I think for our state, we are looking for institutions that can support the company from the research side and trading.
Thank you, and what are the differences that you’ve seen between the psychedelic medicine investment market and the investment market for bio science companies more broadly? Have you seen quirks? Have you seen individual patterns and characteristics that are different to broader bioscience investment?
Yeah, that’s a really good question and the quick answer is yes. I think the mental health treatment space is new and the size of it is not really well modelled yet. So most of these institutions that we’ve interacted with, while they have healthcare analysts, they’re used to a little more traditional biotech. Cardiovascular, liver disease, or other ailments that they can model because there’s so much data out there regarding patient population, pricing, etc. In the psychedelic space, my experience in the last six months has been different. People are starting to get up to speed, but it’s still not there yet. The numbers are all over the place, the projections, the patient modelling, where? How many treatments? And so on.
Most of the other companies in this space have convinced the analysts, institutions, and investment groups that these new treatments need clinical supervision. If you want to add millions and millions of new patients to these new treatments, I think the street is not grasping how hard that is or what it really takes to roll out these health centres and clinics. They don’t realize the cost of that versus the patient-friendly, pharmacy dispensed medication that you can administer at home. For example, antibiotics need to be taken with care, but you don’t have to be in a hospital to take an antibiotic. You take them at home. That’s what we envision would make the biggest difference and that’s why we think our approach is much more sound in developing non-hallucinogenic compounds.
Going back to your question, of what’s the difference in this space. I think the maturity level of analysis is not there yet, to find out exactly what is the economics of this type of treatment. From a shareholder, investor point of view, does this make sense and is this going to have these types of returns?
Yes, it’s a very interesting point. There is this division within the industry between the clinically supervised model and the home treatment model. I think your argument with Better Life is very sound that it increases risk and increases cost and complexity to require that intermediary, whether it’s a therapist, a psychiatrist, a clinician over time. The big markets will only open up to companies that have drugs that can be administered. It’s an interesting bifurcation in the market. While there are arguments on both sides, I think the risk and cost and complexity debates have been won by the at home treatments group within psychedelic medicine. Going to public markets, we’ve seen a decline in psychedelics over the last couple of months. Is your view that this has been caused by external factors and sort of wider financial movements? Is this something inherent within psychedelics? Do you expect a recovery?
I think it’s the latter. I think it is because the interest in the space just exploded a little too fast. It’s settling down in terms of people being able to properly analyze and look at our space and these projects on an individual basis, not just because it’s hyped. As you know, these things tend to happen. It happened to the cannabis space. When the dust settled, the companies that survived and were able to access capital in the public markets and grow were the ones that had a sound plan for advancing their projects properly. So I think that’s what’s happening here. Towards the end of last year there was a little too much excitement in this space. Valuations ran totally out of whack from what was possible, or should have been. But now, I think it’s settling down. Our interactions with institutions and analysts are a lot more, I would say traditional biotech. It’s settling into a deeper dive, as opposed to simply “you’re in psychedelics and you’re modifying this” or “you’re microdosing that, great! Let’s go.” So I think it will turn around. It will come back, maybe not as hyped as before, but it will come back to the levels that are similar to other biotech projects and valuations.
So, just to summarize, to make sure I’ve got that correct. What you’re talking about is the fact that there will be volatility in these public markets. What you saw in cannabis was that it’s not enough to be publicly listed. That doesn’t really protect you. The protection is being publicly listed and having the backing of the long term investors holding your stock, so that you can ride out the volatility and raise more money over the long term. Is it fair to say that the weaker companies that have a predominance of retail investors will be more at risk than somebody like Better Life that’s targeting institutions?
100%. I think having a solid investor base and shareholders that are longer term versus retail is so important. What’s good about Better Life is we have a very strong shareholder base that was invested in the company from the time that we were private. They continued to support the company and participate in the rounds that we’ve done. We made a mistake in one of our rounds and did too much of a retail approach and it comes back to haunt you. It doesn’t help the company. That stable shareholder base is so valuable in terms of cost of capital on an ongoing basis. It doesn’t erode the company at every round. You want it to create value, as opposed to a weaker shareholder base that just erodes it and you won’t survive. Simply, you won’t survive.
Just to finish off, would you like to talk about what’s next for Better Life? Are there any details of the raise that you could share?
As you said, we are public on a junior exchange in Canada and OTC in the United States. So we have now engaged a mid-tier US institution to assist us with a capital raise to get us ready for up-listing to NASDAQ. I think we’re managing that quite effectively. We hope in the next three to six months to be able to execute that. That’s mostly based on what we plan to do with our programs, being before the FDA, and the milestones that we want to hit that will show the value in the company, so that it’s ready for an up-listing.
Fantastic. Thank you. When do you anticipate that raise will begin?
The raise will be by way of a shelf prospectus that we have submitted. I think it will be in the next two to four weeks.
For people that are curious about Better Life, could you explain how people can find you?
Absolutely. You can just google BetterLife Pharma, and our website is www.abetterlifepharma.com.
Fantastic. Well, thank you very much indeed for joining us. We hope to have you back on in the future when you are listed, and thank you all for listening.