Academics and industry to collaborate in depression and schizophrenia project

Led by Danish pharmaceutical company H Lundbeck of Copenhagen and King's College London

An international consortium of scientists, led by Danish pharmaceutical company H Lundbeck of Copenhagen and King's College London, has launched one of the largest research collaborations to find new methods for the development of drugs for schizophrenia and depression.

The "novel methods leading to new medications in depression and schizophrenia" (NEWMEDS) project, funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), brings together scientists from academic institutions and major global drugs companies including AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Novartis, Orion, Pfizer, Roche, Servier and Wyeth.

Other academic institutions involved are: Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), The University of Cambridge (UK), Central Institute of Mental Health (Germany), CSIC (Spain), the University of Manchester (UK) and the Bar Ilan University (Israel). A further two pharmaceutical SMEs, deCODE (Iceland) and Psynova (UK) will also contribute, while GABO:mi (Germany) will be managing the project.

The researchers believe three major bottlenecks are holding back the development of depression and schizophrenia drugs: a lack of accurate animal models to guide the drug discovery; not enough tools and tests in healthy volunteers that can provide early indication of efficacy; and the reliance of clinical trials on symptom-based diagnostic and statistical manual categories, which inevitably leads to biologically heterogeneous groups of patients.

NEWMEDS aims to overcome these limitations and will focus on developing new animal models, which use brain recording and behavioural tests to identify effective drugs for schizophrenia. The project will develop the hardware and analysis techniques to apply brain imaging, especially MRI and PET imaging to drug development. It will examine how new genetic findings (duplication and deletion or changes in genes) influence the response to various drugs and whether this information can be used to choose the right drug for the right patient. It will also develop new approaches for shorter and more efficient clinical trials that may require fewer patients and give faster results.

Professor Shitij Kapur, dean of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's said: 'NEWMEDS is a timely experiment. While the biology of psychiatry has made remarkable progress, we have been slow in converting that into innovative and new medications. This is a joint challenge for academia and industry. NEWMEDS is a joint response. It is not only scientifically innovative, but, it is also an innovation in creating a cluster of nearly 50 scientists from both sides to work together to achieve a common goal - better, safer and more effective medications - more quickly.'