The art on the 29th floor London penthouse apartment of German tech investor and entrepreneur Christian Angermayer has two themes: psychedelics and gay emperors.
One corner has a 2,300-year-old marble bust of Alexander the Great’s lover Hephaestion. To his right sits a 2,000-year-old bust of the Roman emperor Hadrian next to a picture of his lover Antinous.
But the 42-year-old is most proud of his 2,400-year-old bust of Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess revered in an ancient ritual which, according to Angermayer and a growing body of research, involved dosing figures such as Plato and Socrates with powerful psychedelics.
“There is more and more evidence that psychedelics were a foundation of western civilisation,” he says.
This excitement makes sense for a man who, over the past five years, has been perhaps the single biggest financial driving force behind shifting psychedelic drugs from a dusty relic of 1960s’ counterculture into the medical mainstream as a legal medicine to treat mental illnesses.
In September, the company he helped found in 2017, Compass Pathways, which has developed a synthetic version of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and is conducting the world's first large-scale therapy clinical trial using the drug, listed in New York. His 28% stake, which cost him around $55m over multiple rounds, became worth more than $400m.
Next spring the biotech company he founded Atai Life Sciences — which is pursuing a large range of treatments for mental-health disorders using other more obscure drugs such as DMT, ar-ketamine and ibogaine — is set to go public as well at an expected $1bn-$2bn valuation, according to bankers familiar with the process.
With these high-profile exits and an increasingly large fortune — his investment company, Apeiron Investment Group, manages around $750m of his own money and $600m of others’ and invests in longevity research, biotech, fintech, spacetech, crypto and entertainment — Angermayer is becoming one of Europe’s most powerful and influential tech investors.
He has also won the ear of political leaders — his sideboard has pictures of him with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and European Central Bank head Christine Lagarde — and now regularly co-invests with renowned US investors such as Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, Steve Jurvetson, an early investor and board member of Tesla and SpaceX and Michael Novogratz from Galaxy Investment Partners.
“Christian is successful because he is curious,“ Thiel told Sifted in an email exchange. “He finds because he seeks — both ideas and people. That sounds simple, but it’s rare.”
The first trip
The rule of Brunch with Sifted is that the interviewee picks the restaurant and Sifted picks up the bill. But as London is in the midst of a pandemic, restaurants feel a bit risky, so I turn up at his apartment cum office near Old Street in east London where he has prepared a business brunch of smoked salmon, ham, croissant, coffee, cheese, melon and strawberries.
His cousin, Stephan — not the only handsome young family member hanging around his apartment on a Saturday — is making some scrambled eggs with just the right hint of pepper.
Angermayer is wearing a grey jumper with the chemical symbol for psilocybin on the chest (he has the same symbol tattooed on his arm). He starts with a tour of the art, pointing out the psychedelic pieces, the gay emperors and their lovers as well as a golden triptych made by his friend Landon Ross which — he says with a flourish — “contains only elements created in the last three seconds of a dying star… that’s basically where we all come from and end up.”
When we sit down it becomes apparent that this luxurious spread isn’t his usual Saturday morning fare: he chooses delicately to avoid any carbs — which is part of a regime to help extend his life — while I pile bread and ham onto my plate.
I start by asking him about Compass Pathways and how he got involved with psychedelics. Or more importantly: when was his first trip?
It started, he says, with friends on the Caribbean island of Canouan (where, he notes, it’s legal) back in 2014. He had resisted pressure for years: he had never drunk, smoked or done any drugs before so he was reluctant to try psilocybin. But when he finally tried he found it such a profound experience he became a “die-hard convert” to its positive benefits to mental health.
“All my trips together now make some of the most meaningful experiences of my entire life,” he says.
He began searching for a way to turn this into a business, when his friend Michael Novogratz in 2017 introduced him to George Goldsmith and Ekaterina Malievskaia (who now lead Compass Pathways) and who had similar ideas about the benefits of psilocybin for mental health.
A few weeks later Angermayer had promised the couple the £3m of investment they needed to start a real business. “They had spent years in meetings getting nowhere, but I stopped them after 10 minutes and said, ‘I am in’.” (The £3m was split between Novogratz, Thiel and him.)
Just a few years later Compass Pathways is doing psilocybin therapy clinical trials in 20 sites across nine countries in Europe and North America and is now getting so big in this field that it’s faced criticism for trying to create a magic mushroom monopoly by patenting an artificial form of psilocybin, a critique Angermayer rejects.
“We are not coming after the hippies growing this organically at home,” he says. “We are patenting this so we can bring the synthetic version of this natural drug to the hundreds of millions of people who need it for medical conditions and can only get it if it's prescribed by doctors and paid by their health insurance.”
A Chaga mushroom coffee and the first few startups
Angermayer at this point wants a coffee so walks over to the kitchen. “I am having a mushroom coffee, would you like one?” I looked startled, but only for a moment as he assured me it’s just coffee with Chaga mushroom (a popular “wellness” supplement) with some extra Lion’s Mane mushroom extract pipetted in. All non-psychedelic.
Now sipping our pleasant and slightly earthy coffee, he tells me that he didn’t grow up in a world of drug research and billionaires. He was born in a small town in northern Bavaria to a mother who is a secretary and father who was an engineer. “If you had asked my parents what I should be, they would have said teacher or doctor.”
But by the age of 20 he was dropping out of university to found his first biotech company, Ribopharma, with two of his professors which eventually merged with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and listed on the stock exchange (now worth $15bn). Ever since then he has been starting tech companies and investing, initially with four friends and now alone through Alpiron.
One of his big breaks came during the European sovereign debt crisis where, thanks to some political connections, he became known among elite investor circles worldwide as someone who understood the problem and — more importantly — how Germany saw it. This made him friends and eventually coinvestors.
Today, on top of psychedelic research, Angermayer is one of the most prominent investors in the field of longevity, where he is heavily involved in two companies, Rejuveron Life Sciences in Switzerland and Cambrian Biopharma in the US.
The science behind longevity — pioneered by figures such as Aubrey de Grey and Ray Kurzweil — is today centred around finding specific treatments around the nine “hallmarks of ageing” to help to halt or even reverse the ageing process.
Angermayer is also part of a movement pushing for ageing to be classified as a disease so it would be easier to do clinical trials on anti-ageing drugs.
“People say that dying is natural, but it's really things going wrong in your body," he says. “For thousands of years, we have merely devoted ourselves to the conviction that ageing and death are inevitable and ‘natural’, and have integrated this narrative into our culture and all religions. Science is just beginning to better understand the reasons for ageing and dying, and a disease that we understand will eventually be cured.”
But do we want to live forever? “I don’t think people will want to live forever, but I think they would like it to be their choice to die after say 150 or 200 years rather than getting killed by the ageing disease." He adds: "Some people will find it hard to cope with an ever quicker changing world, but psychedelics could help with that as well. They could help us keep the lust for life alive.”
Angermayer has a lot on beyond psychedelics and living forever. One of his investments at the moment, AbCellera, an antibody therapy company he is closely involved with which has been part of the fight to develop a treatment for coronavirus, has hired bankers and is set to IPO within the next months for several billion dollars, according to people close to the company.
He is an investor in Deposit Solutions, the German fintech unicorn, and two European space leaders Mynaric and Isar Aerospace, to name a few others. He says he has raised $500m for his portfolio companies in the past six months and is hands-on operationally with most of them. He connects people: it was him who last year put Japan’s SoftBank in touch with now-collapsed German fintech Wirecard about an investment. He has made films such as Filth, Aspern Papers and Hector and the Search for Happiness.
Oh, and he is on the advisory council of Rwandan president Paul Kagame. This came after, in 2009, he bought a bank in Rwanda after being impressed by meeting the leader at dinner in Germany. It was “the only thing that was being privatised at that moment”, he says. He expanded the lender and later sold it to Bob Diamond, the former Barclays CEO.
But what does the future hold, I ask? By this point we’ve been talking for three hours, the afternoon is marching on, and Angermayer is even breaking his no-carbs rule nibbling on the corner of a croissant.
Pausing for a moment, leaning back in his chair, he says that beyond tech investments and dealmaking he has a long-term vision that somewhen down the road, psychedelics could shape global politics for the better.
He is, for instance, funding a study by Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial College in London, to study the effect of Palestinians and Israelis drinking the psychedelic drug Ayahuasca together.
He is also spreading the message more widely in his powerful circles. “I am a partner of the Munich Security Conference, [a high profile event in international relations], and at one dinner, I joked with them that I was going to spike their drink with psilocybin…”
He adds quickly: “I mean, I was completely joking, of course. But I also told them that there had been times in history when world leaders used the power of psychedelics to become better leaders, especially for conflict resolution purposes. Looking at a world which, despite best intentions, becomes increasingly divided, maybe we have to think radically differently.”
He also has a European agenda, believing that his investment focus on biotech and deeptech are areas where Europe, after losing out to the US over the past decade in creating the big ecommerce and social platforms, has a chance of catching up. “We have some of the best engineers and researchers in the world,” he says.
Governments he is less enamoured of, criticising the German government’s latest change in the law to make it easier for startups to offer stock options as not going far enough, saying that after years of efforts from business it was only a tiny change to the rules. “It’s like having sex once after 10 years, and not even good sex, and then expecting your partner to be satisfied… No, it is still far too little, and far from perfect. We have to do better.”
And on that note, it’s time to leave, saying a socially-distanced goodbye, walking into his private lobby (where there is an 18th-century bronze statue of the Roman gladiator called Retiarius), taking the lift down and getting on my bike back home.