Justin Kirkland is an American chemist with a long association with ibogaine research. He spoke at the European Ibogaine Forum earlier this month in Porto. His discussion on the possibility of lab-synthesised ibogaine (with no plant inputs) sparked the interest of the assembled audience. We decided to conduct an email interview to find out more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and why you are studying in Belize.
I was born in the midwest and have lived all over the US and in Mexico and now in Belize. I have worked in pharmaceuticals, botanicals, and dietary supplements for most of my career. I have manufactured a wide variety of compounds as well as extracted and isolated natural products. Over the last two years, I have been synthesizing injectible peptide APIs. I spent much of my time educating doctors on the products that I was making and decided I would be a more reputable advocate of therapeutic options if I too were an MD. Belize is an affordable option for this pursuit.
When did you first hear about iboga/ibogaine and what were your first thoughts/feelings?
I worked at a chemical plant in Baja Norte, Mexico. I was contacted via email by Howard Lotsoff asking if I could perform botanical extractions on Voacanga africana. I drove up to San Franciso to meet he and his wife at a harm reduction meeting and also met other various ibogaine practitioners. At this meeting, I met the owner of a clinic in Baja and subsequently visited it in the following weeks. I saw and met patients that were given their life back.
Describe your work with ibogaine subsequently.
While working in Mexico, I performed some analytical chemistry on iboga extracts and ibogaine HCl, primarily determining the minor constituents. I determined by the impurity profile that two suppliers were clearly obtaining material from the same source. Simultaneously, I performed some Vocanga alkaloid extractions. The border violence in Mexico was increasing, and I relocated back to the Midwest taking a job at another chemical plant. By definition, a Schedule 1 drug has no medical value and I directly observed recipients of ibogaine experiencing life renewing health improvements. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I then went on to license the patented manufacturing rights to 18-MC for the chemical plant that I worked at. I was highly motivated to make 18-MC available to study since Ibogaine was scheduled. Savant was established at this same time to license the human use portion of the same patent.
Why has it been difficult for Savant to raise funds for 18-MC trials?
My best guess is that addiction is still a complicated patient indication. There is still a lot to be accepted and understood. Pharmaceuticals with continued daily use are financially a better business model. The approval process can easily take 10 years. I previously worked on a drug project where we made 2,000 new compounds before one was selected to begin trials towards approval. “Developing a new prescription medicine that gains marketing approval is estimated to cost drugmakers $2.6 billion according to a recent study by Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.” (2018)
Apart from Ibogaine research, what else do you work on?
I have a long-standing interest in the ergoline compound BOL-148. I received a US patent this year for improved synthesis of this compound. I am deeply interested in the pursuit of drugs for unmet needs. A global report last month stated, “91 of 139 urgently needed drugs, vaccines, diagnostic tests or devices identified by the World Health Organization have yet to be developed, and 16 prioritized diseases have no projects at all.” I am currently paying my bills working in anti-aging medicine.
Can you explain in layperson’s terms how it is possible to synthesize Ibogaine without using plant material?
Chemically speaking drugs are made by combining desired portions of a compound with the addition of another part of one which likely has a leaving group. You can react pieces with other pieces being discarded as byproducts. The plant makes this alkaloid or secondary metabolite likely starting with an amino acid and a wide variety of enzymes. In the lab, we’d use reagents and heat to drive the reactions.
How much would it cost to make and what would be a feasible wholesale price?
I have yet to see the cost of a manufacturing process be a detriment to the availability of a drug. I am sure there is an example somewhere, but the economy of scale seems to normalize pricing. I have not looked at the costs to produce wholesale quantities, but my approach would be to subcontract bulk manufacturing of starting materials to experts in that specific type of chemistry. I have no doubt that this exercise would result in a cost-effective offering.
In terms of GMP standards, would this be 100% pure ibogaine?
The GMP process is in place to ensure safety, quality, and reproducibility. I don’t see any reason why Ibogaine could not be synthesized to GMP quality at a 99% purity.
What is stopping you from mass producing lab-made ibogaine?
For most of my pharma oriented career, I have resided in the US and it is not a jurisdiction appropriate for ibogaine manufacturing. I have focused on projects that I can see to fruition. The opportunity for the international community to pursue this endeavor exists.