On April 1, 2011, two officials from the Wellcome Trust, the largest private philanthropic organization in the UK with assets of about $20 billion, meet at their London office with MAPS Executive Director Rick Doblin, Ph.D., British psychiatrist Ben Sessa, M.D., Swiss MDMA/PTSD study Clinical Investigator and lead psychiatrist Peter Oehen, M.D., and Swiss co-therapist Verena Widmer. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss possible Wellcome Trust interest in a grant application for a MAPS-sponsored MDMA/PTSD pilot study to take place in England. The meeting took Rick Doblin about two months to arrange, with crucial assistance from Ben Sessa and senior British scientist David Nutt, M.D.
The outcome of the meeting was that the Wellcome has invited us to submit a grant proposal. Wellcome staff indicated that they were more interested in the neuroscience of psychedelics than the therapy, so as a result we will be designing the new study with an emphasis on physiological and neurophysiological changes related to PTSD before and after treatment. While there is no guarantee that Wellcome will agree to fund the study, this is the first time that MAPS has ever been invited to submit a grant application to a major public (non-family) foundation, and therefore represents a major step forward. Although Wellcome officials thought they would be taking a “reputational risk” by agreeing to fund an MDMA/PTSD study, they also agreed with Rick Doblin’s comment that doing so could also be a “reputational opportunity.” Those foundations that decide to support psychedelic research at this stage will in the future be recognized for their prescient contributions to this growing field.