French Biotech Targets the Brain to Treat Cannabis Abuse

This week, we’re in Bordeaux, France, to visit Aelis Farma, a biotech developing a drug targeting the brain to treat cannabis abuse and other conditions.

French Biotech Targets the Brain to Treat Cannabis Abuse

Mission: Aelis Farma is developing a new class of drugs known as signaling specific inhibitors (SSi) to treat the behavioral symptoms of cannabis abuse. The treatment blocks the activity of the endocannabinoid receptor CB1. CB1 is known to mediate the behavioral effects of cannabis use.


Most drugs targeting CB1 inevitably activate many other unrelated cell signaling pathways, which often leads to side effects. Aelis’ technology could overcome this hurdle by mimicking the action of pregnenolone, a steroid that activates only one of CB1’s pathways to specifically reduce behavior related to cannabis addiction. CB1 receptors are widespread and involved in a lot of different diseases. Because of this, Aelis’ sees the potential for its technology to treat a variety of conditions, from psychosis to mental retardation, metabolic disorders and skin diseases.

Comment: Not surprisingly, the increasing legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes seems to go hand-in-hand with an interest in targeting its cellular mechanisms of action in treating disease. From a purely scientific perspective, there is a certain elegance to Aelis’ SSi approach to targeting the CB1 receptor while simultaneously sidestepping common side effects of GPCR drugs.

Moreover, the French biotech is also able to attract prestigious partnerships. In collaboration with Columbia University, Aelis was recently awarded $3.3M from NIDA (the US National Institute on Drug Abuse) to start the first Phase I clinical studies testing its SSi technology in treating cannabis abuse. I will wait for the results with great interest.

Image by Eo naya/Shutterstock

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