As the western world begins to value the medicinal and therapeutic potential of psychedelics for psychiatric indications, the twenty-first century bears witness to the rapid revitalization of psychedelic drug development and research. Companies like MAPS Benefit Corporation (MAPS PBC) and COMPASS pathways are in phase three clinical trials developing the new drug application for MDMA assisted therapy and have completed the largest randomized, controlled, double-blind psilocybin therapy study to date, respectively. At stake is a mounting mental health crisis that is not sufficiently addressed by currently available drugs with a current pipeline short of promise. Despite both colonization and criminalization, Indigenous communities have protected and stewarded plant medicines, commonly referred to as psychedelic medicines by western society, within their own traditional and ceremonial contexts for centuries. To date, however, these communities have received little to no benefit for their contributions to the scientific advancement of psychedelics. As corporations begin commercializing psychedelics to treat various mental health conditions, there is an opportunity to center relational and equitable corporate structures that include Indigenous communities in wealth creation, rather than continuing to exclude them as they have been for so long. The potential of these technologies will be significantly limited if companies do not evolve towards more inclusive forms of capitalism. Rejecting the business-as-usual attitude that centers extractive methodologies is critical in creating a healing economy. Alternative business structures have the ability to shape the industry standard and in turn create successful companies that have the ability to bring about change and healing. As transformational technologies begin to scale within the psychedelic renaissance, equitable business structures and corporate approaches to reciprocity have become topic of discussion. Many are looking to Journey Colab, a biopharmaceutical company developing psychedelic treatments for addiction, that is pioneering a stakeholder business model centering benefit sharing and consultation with Indigenous peoples to build an ethical for-profit company.
Journey Colab, founded in 2020, is a biopharmaceutical company developing psychedelic treatments for addiction Journey Colab is developing evidence-based, synthetically-derived psychedelic therapeutics to transform the treatment of addiction, starting with synthetic Mescaline HCl (JOUR-5700) for the treatment of alcohol use disorder. Journey has also adopted an innovative stakeholder model whose mission is supported by consultation and the Journey Reciprocity Trust. Backed by the Business Roundtable, Journey Colab’s stakeholder model was designed to consider different stakeholder interests and share the value generated by the company’s success particularly with Indigenous communities that have historically been excluded from wealth creation. Through a series of ongoing consultations, considering all stakeholders, Journey has built a more sustainable company that will also be able to produce better products and services.
The stakeholder model of corporate governance has become more favored in recent years, centering a more humanistic and ethical approach to running a business. For example, in preparation for Airbnb’s IPO in 2020, Airbnb created the Host Endowment Fund to align its community of hosts with the company’s success. Outschool dedicated 2% of its stock to a fund for educators, the content creators of its platform, as part of Outschool’s 2021 $75M Series C (raised at 1.3B valuation). Equitable business structures create the foundation to drive equitable outcomes and stakeholder engagement, building better and more successful businesses.
As one of the first psychedelic drug development companies to implement consultation with Indigenous communities regarding access and benefit sharing, with a consultation process inspired by the United Nations international human rights standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent and the Nagoya Protocol, Journey Colab has committed to access and benefit sharing with Indigenous communities through the creation of the Journey Reciprocity Trust. The Journey Reciprocity Trust is an irrevocable trust that holds ten percent of the company’s founding equity and is designed to share the value generated by the company’s success with Indigenous communities that have traditionally used psychedelics as well as other stakeholders in the psychedelic sector, including groups working to ensure equitable access to mental health treatment and those working on the conservation of naturally-occurring psychedelics, whose work is foundational to the success of this sector. To effectively scale new synthetic psychedelic therapies, Journey Colab believes the most de-risked approach to development is to consult with consenting communities who have used naturally-occurring psychedelic compounds for centuries, i.e. Indigenous communities. The success of Journey Colab would create immense value for all shareholders, including, through the Journey Reciprocity Trust, Indigenous communities that have historically been excluded from value creation. Journey Colab’s approach has been validated by investors, as Journey Colab (a Series A company) has raised a total of $15.7 million to date.
Journey Colab recognizes its responsibility to return profit to their shareholders, and in Journey’s business model, shareholders include not only employees and investors, but also, through the Journey Reciprocity Trust, those communities whose traditional uses these novel synthetic therapeutics are inspired by – i.e. Indigenous communities who have traditionally used naturally-occurring psychedelics. This white paper discusses and outlines the way in which Journey Colab’s approach to developing an ethical psychedelic drug development company and reciprocity initiative. Specifically, it highlights the development of the corporate structure, business model, and the perpetual purpose trust. Guiding principles that are at the core of Journey’s mission, such as co-creation and consultation, central to Journey’s success in creating an ethical psychedelic company and its ability to scale transformational therapeutics.
 It is important to highlight that Indigenous communities do not refer to their sacraments as “psychedelics”, instead they are known as “plant medicines”. However, within the context of this paper Journey will refer to these transformational technologies as such.
Prior to its formation in 2020, the founding team of Journey Colab engaged in a consultation process that included more than 250 conversations with leaders in biotech, venture capital and impact investing, elders in the psychedelic sector, doctors and therapists working in the field, and representatives working with Indigenous communities. The company sought to understand the significant issues the sector was facing and how Journey Colab could most effectively contribute to the advancement of the psychedelic sector. Through this consultation Journey Colab learned that:
1) Traditional, purely extractive approaches to developing psychedelics would risk perpetuating our current broken model of mental healthcare and the current inequality of access to treatment;
2) Effective psychedelic therapy requires great therapists and clinical infrastructure, which currently don’t exist;
3) The Indigenous communities that have stewarded these medicines are concerned about their ability to access them for ceremonial purposes, because the ecological sources of psychedelic medicines are threatened by increased demand and ongoing habitat loss; and
4) International human rights standards concerning Indigenous communities have already been developed by the United Nations and should be leveraged to support consultation and access and benefit sharing by companies, like Journey Colab, that are developing psychedelic therapies inspired by naturally-occurring psychedelic substances used by Indigenous communities.
Through this first consultation process, Journey Colab’s founding team gained a deeper understanding of the pressing issues the psychedelic renaissance presented. As such, Journey Colab co-created a corporate governance structure grounded in an ongoing consultation process that would help the company scale through growth capital, while delivering these medicines equitably and respecting and sharing value with Indigenous communities. The result of that first consultation framed Journey Colab’s stakeholder model. First and foremost, the company’s leadership recognized the need to include Indigenous voices and experts who understood the vast cultural and spiritual implications of developing synthetic mescaline for submission to FDA as a potential new treatment for addiction and other mental health conditions. Journey Colab has committed to use only wholly synthetically produced mescaline, i.e., to use technology to synthesize mescaline in a lab, without using either peyote or San Pedro or any other plant in which mescaline naturally occurs. The company recognizes the cultural sensitivity of working with synthetic mescaline, which has been used in its naturally occurring forms by Indigenous peoples for centuries, and that, by working with synthetic mescaline, there is an ongoing obligation to respect both the Indigenous peoples who use this medicine and the plants in which mescaline naturally occurs, particularly the peyote and San Pedro cactuses. Journey Colab strongly believes that a total synthetic production of mescaline that completely avoids the use of peyote or San Pedro cactus or any other plant in which mescaline naturally occurs both respects cultural and ecological concerns and creates a path to a sustainable source for the clinical market.
The benefits of including employees in the ownership of a company is widely acknowledged, which is now standard practice in Silicon Valley and many other companies that grant equity options to employees to align the employees’ interests with that of the company. Journey Colab recognized that the same benefits of ownership should be extended to the larger community of partners working to build the new psychedelic sector in an ethical way. This is a stakeholder model , developed in part by the Purpose Foundation, that was leveraged and specifically tailored to Journey Colab’s needs. The Journey Reciprocity Trust holds ten percent of the company’s founding equity for the benefit of Indigenous communities that have stewarded these medicines, as well as other community stakeholders, including groups working to ensure equitable access to mental health treatment and those working to benefit the ecological conservation of naturally-occurring psychedelics. The Journey Reciprocity Trust is designed to honor the critical contributions that varying stakeholders have made to the psychedelic movement through their cultural practices, expertise and advocacy by sharing ownership of the company today, not just a pledge of some small percentage of far-off future profits. The Trust also has representation on Journey Colab’s Board of Directors to represent the interests of the stakeholders at the Board level.
The Journey Reciprocity Trust, through its Trust Stewardship Committee (“TSC”), independently determines how to accomplish the purpose of the Trust and distribute the benefits of the equity. That expertise and autonomy frees the company’s executives to focus and excel on the core business of drug development, while the TSC focuses on effectuating the Trust’s purpose. The TSC alone has the ability to approve a sale, distribution, or pledge of the Trust’s assets if the TSC doing so is in alliance with the Purpose of the Trust. At any meeting of the TSC, a majority of the TSC members constitutes a quorum. That quorum is able to make general decisions by a simple majority vote.
The TSC (which is in the process of being appointed) will be comprised of five members who represent the communities or purposes to be benefitted by the Trust, with a preference for TSC members who identify as being of Indigenous descent. The TSC represent the stakeholders and fulfill the purpose of the Trust charter, with a particular focus on the following:
· Benefitting the practices and organizations working to expand equitable access to mental health care and psychedelic health care services, especially underserved and disadvantaged communities, especially Indigenous communities;
· Benefitting the ecological and Indigenous cultural conservation of psychedelic medicines, with a priority for, but not limited to, the naturally-occurring compounds that Journey has developed or will develop synthetic equivalents to;
· Benefitting and representing the perspectives and rights of Indigenous nations and organizations, including following best practices concerning consultation, the Nagoya Protocol, and other human rights standards concerning Indigenous groups.
· Benefitting nonprofit psychedelic partners.
The Journey Reciprocity Trust serves an additional purpose of an Impact Advisory Board, helping inform the executives of key partnerships and developments in the field. The Trust will issue an annual Reciprocity Report detailing the progress of the company and the Trust on these issues. Together with the Reciprocity Trust, Journey Colab aims to create a culture of reciprocity.
When consulting with Indigenous communities during its first consultation process, Journey Colab’s founders recognized that reinventing the wheel to solve for reciprocity wasn’t necessary. Indigenous leaders and stakeholders globally have developed international protocols to guide consultation with and protect the rights and resources of Indigenous communities. Journey Colab thus looked to various international human rights standards that had been developed to facilitate consultation and benefit sharing between corporations and Indigenous communities.
The development of these therapies is in the context of perpetuation of systemic inequities, the erasure of Indigenous peoples, and cultural appropriation. Many Indigenous nations have fought and continue to fight for the right to openly and freely practice their cultural ceremonies involving psychedelic medicines. As Journey Colab develops its synthetic psychedelic therapeutics, the company is committed to protecting and stewarding them in such a way that both shares the value created from these therapeutics with Indigenous communities and also ensures that ceremonial practices for and by Indigenous peoples are able to carry on for future generations. Journey Colab believes that consultation and co-creation are critical when considering actions that could affect the Indigenous diaspora.
The United Nations principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (“FPIC”) implies consultation prior to and participation in the development of projects that impact their natural resources. FPIC is woven into the fabric of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP” ) and other international laws and codified in the domestic laws of nations worldwide. While FPIC applies directly to projects that impact Indigenous peoples’ natural resources, or real property, it also applies indirectly to projects that impact Indigenous peoples’ cultural resources, or intellectual property. The UN Nagoya Protocol’s principles of access and benefit-sharing (ABS). Another building block of the rights of Indigenous peoples, the Nagoya Protocol , focuses on benefit-sharing in the commercialization of genetic resources. The Nagoya Protocol focuses on ABS or what happens with project outputs. Journey Colab believes in strong ABS. To us, strong ABS means ensuring that Indigenous peoples impacted by our drug development programs not only benefit from them economically but also have priority access to the drugs when and where needed. Through our commitment to the rights of Indigenous peoples actualized by ABS and consultation, Journey Colab are working to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 1, 3, 12, 15, and 17 in recognition of our shared future.
Although Journey Colab is not working with botanicals or naturally-occurring sources of their synthetic molecules in any form, Journey Colab is inspired by and committed to honoring FPIC in its own consultation process. Journey Colab recognizes the importance of consent, and at the time of launching the company, many peyote communities were not ready to interface with pharma at the time of formation. Recognizing the culturally sensitivities and complexities, representatives of these communities requested to be contacted at a later date. To ensure the company was not further disrupting these communities, the company listened to the Indigenous representatives of these communities, who cautioned against consultation during a time where communities were developing their own stances on the legalization and commercialization of psychedelics. As a result, Journey Colab’s consultation process was primarily designed to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the Journey Reciprocity Trust through meaningful dialogue with various stakeholders.
Journey Colab’s second consultation process began after the development of the Journey Reciprocity Trust in early 2021. The purpose of this consultation is designed to provide a safe container and space to build trust with community stakeholders and educate stakeholders on the company’s approach to access and benefit sharing. The company focused on consultation around the nomination of TSC members, and mechanisms to support the distribution of the value generated by the Trust.
During this consultation with Indigenous communities and representatives, many Indigenous voices and representatives highlighted the need for the company to delay further consultation until liquidity was ready to be redistributed. Although all consultation was supported by an hourly honorarium, at the same rate consultants are paid within the company, concerns were raised regarding the exchange of information without any immediate benefit from the trust and the potential of perpetuating an extractive business approach. In honor of that learning and to shape that impact positively, Journey Colab determined to re-engage Indigenous stakeholders who are open to continuing consultation around access and benefit sharing and drug development after the Trust establishes a clear pathway to distributing the value. This prompted the executive leadership to focus on increasing the value of Journey Colab, and to focus on creating a potential opportunity in a future financing to unlock assets for the Trust. Within one year from when the company raises a sufficient valuation agreed upon by the trust, the company will identify the full slate of the first Trust Stewardship Committee, which will then be empowered to deploy the equity as the TSC deems fit to accomplish the Trust’s purpose. Once the TSC is identified, the TSC will conduct consultation with stakeholders described within the charter, and equity will be deployed based on the findings of the consultation process. The consultation process will evaluate the design of an inclusive grantmaking strategy and feedback on the drug development program.
Additional concerns were raised in regards to the TSC appointing one chair for Indigenous representation and the lack of representation of the TSC at the board level. Many voices expressed that having one Indigenous voice present would not provide adequate representation and would instead perpetuate an ideology that Indigenous people are monolithic and consequentially exacerbate inequality in the design and deployment of the Journey Reciprocity Trust. To ensure the equitable design and fair distribution of the Journey Reciprocity trust it was requested that the TSC acknowledge the diversity of Indigenous perspective and expertise by increasing Indigenous representation within the TSC. Furthermore, consultation highlighted the experience of Indigenous communities being disproportionally impacted by the medicalization of plant medicines, and alienated from decision making power within the psychedelic renaissance. In addition, it was also requested that the company advocate for representation at the board level. The company determined to increase Indigenous representation within the TSC with a preference for completely Indigenous representation on the TSC. Journey Colab’s intention is to include stakeholders in both ownership and governance with eventual representation of all stakeholders at the board level. As the company evolves and continues to raise capital, Journey Colab is eager to meet and prioritize investors who share that view and find innovative avenues to include all stakeholders in the governance of the company. Journey Colab continues to advocate for ensuring all stakeholders are represented in governance, in recognition of the importance of community representation,
Pursuing patents on psychedelics, and in particular those with a long history of use like mescaline, has stirred controversy and criticism, much of which Journey Colab agrees with. Thus, in crafting a patent strategy, Journey is embodying their commitment to the ethical stewardship of mescaline as a general approach to developing mescaline for the market, which is in alignment with the goal of access and benefit sharing. Journey Colab does not believe patenting truly novel inventions is inherently wrong, and understands that investors should be rewarded for the risk and time involved in developing medicines for regulatory approval. Otherwise, these treatments might not reach patients at all and the trust would be incapable of providing value through benefit sharing. At the same time, the company recognizes that patents can be used to exclude practices which are properly in the public domain. With plant medicines for example, many feel concern that a patent on the naturally-occurring compound could turn using the natural product into infringement. Journey also understands that patents can block certain activities, even if the patents are not meant to be applied to them. For instance, in the context of patented traditional medicines, those leading or participating in the ceremonial use of those medicines may be right to feel hesitation or concern. While these concerns may be unjustified based on the intent of the inventors or the original patent applicant, patents often change hands, and many ultimately find their way into those of a company whose very goal is to assert patents on activities not previously meant to be infringing.
Journey Colab wishes to dispel each of these concerns. Journey’s intent is never to assert patents on mescaline against the non-commercial use of naturally-derived mescaline and mescaline-containing plants, or on certain ceremonial and traditional practices, including and in particular the Indigenous use of peyote. Moreover, the intent is that all future patent owners must be bound in the same manner. To clarify these intentions and render them enforceable, Journey Colab has made a binding and irrevocable promise, which is set forth in its Patent Non-Assertion Pledge.
Although Journey Colab has successfully raised venture financing, fundraising with a stakeholder model has proved challenging in many aspects. Particularly, it highlighted the lack of investment in mission-centered drug development companies and the need for investors to stand in allyship with companies willing to center consultation and access and benefit sharing instead of proceeding with a purely extractive business as usual model. Journey Colab’s intention is to include stakeholders in both ownership and governance with eventual representation of all stakeholders at the board level. As the company evolves and continues to raise capital, Journey Colab is eager to meet and prioritize investors who share that view and find innovative avenues to include all stakeholders in the governance of the company.
An important learning for Journey and others that are pursuing innovative and more inclusive corporate structures is the need to raise awareness and provide literacy for investors and community partners around the importance of representation for the Trust on Journey Colab’s Board of Directors once the full TSC is appointed. In Journey’s particular case, there is significant business value in ensuring that all stakeholders are represented in the company. Namely, Journey Colab believes iIncluding the stakeholders you serve in the governance structure creates a more equitable and sustainable business to service your community. Understanding that there is no better expert than the community you serve. Namely, asAs the company approaches providers and operators in the addiction recovery space, the stakeholder model continues to instill trust that Journey Colab is developing products and services with intention for a marginalized population in desperate need of better tools and solutions, . As the Journey Reciprocity Trust prioritizes raising more Indigenous voices and expertise within the TSC, and at the board level, Journey Colab will prioritize increasing the company’s value for all shareholders, to have value to share with Indigenous communities in a meaningful and impactful way.
The extent to which reciprocity is operationalized within a company is directly proportional to the inner work that the team has done prior to forming the business. The Journey Reciprocity Trust is the first of its kind, largely in part to Journey’s prioritization of hiring a diverse team that understands the vast potential importance of these therapeutics and also of centering and sharing value with impacted marginalized communities. Developing an innovative corporate structure that challenges the status quo isn’t easy. Journey Colab needs mission-aligned investors and allies who understand capital as a tool to facilitate healing. As noted, impact investor, and author of “Decolonize Wealth”, Edgar Villanueva has stated, “money can be used as medicine.” Journey Colab’s experience demonstrates that how you build something is equally as important as what you’re building.