Driving Advances in Drug Discovery for Mental Health Conditions

Understanding and addressing the unmet therapeutic needs of individuals living with mental health conditions.

PSYCHIATRY CONSORTIUM

The scale and impact of mental illness across society is immense. In 2019, 1 in every 8 individuals, or 970 million individuals worldwide, were living with a mental illness—with anxiety and depressive disorders the most common.1 In 2020, the number of individuals living with anxiety and depressive disorders rose significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial estimates show a 26% and 28% increase, respectively, for anxiety and major depressive disorder in just 1 year.2

Although we have treatments for some mental health conditions, they do not work for everyone, and adverse effects can be difficult to tolerate. Yet, despite the pressing unmet need, drug discovery in this field has stayed relatively stagnant compared to other therapeutic areas, with no new types of medicines coming forward in the past 30 years.

Psychiatric drug discovery must be a truly collaborative process to drive advances. To enable a more unified approach, we need a better handover between scientific disciplines and a systematic and structured pathway to take academic advances in our understanding of psychiatric disease biology through the drug discovery process.

The Psychiatry Consortium, launched in 2019, is a strategic collaboration of 2 leading medical research charities and 8 pharmaceutical companies (Table) focusing on the challenge of identifying and validating novel drug targets to address the unmet therapeutic needs of individuals living with mental health conditions.

The Psychiatry Consortium Partners act as a syndicate, collectively sharing the funding of—and therefore the risk associated with—drug discovery.

We strive to bring all aspects of the global research community together to tackle and address key challenges within drug discovery. We provide opportunities for funding, collaboration, and industry know-how in this area of unmet patient need. This model of working is designed with the patient, manufacturer, and supplier all in mind, and it is unique in its holistic approach and global reach.

Project Portfolio

Psychiatry Consortium projects aim to build a deep understanding of a disease or condition and its causative molecular mechanisms to identify and validate novel therapeutic targets. One of the early successes of the Consortium is a multi-million-dollar partnership between leading international research institutions and pharmaceutical companies that joined together to investigate a new drug target for the treatment of schizophrenia. This was the first project funded by the international Psychiatry Consortium.

The world-leading team of academic researchers are using their newly designed technical approach to assess which proteins are selectively produced by the kalirin gene in the human brain, and how this differs from other human tissues. Once this is understood, it may be possible to identify the proteins that represent the most promising drug targets for the potential treatment of schizophrenia and how they affect the function of cells, and to begin to develop drugs to alter their function.

In February 2022, we launched our second project: an international collaboration to tackle depression. The project will see academic and industry partners combine efforts and expertise to assess the role of 1 of the most significant risk genes for depression (Neuronal Growth Regulator 1, or NEGR1) in the development of the disorder. Researchers will apply a combination of human genomics, cellular physiology, and neurobehavioral genetics investigations aimed at characterizing gene expression in the human brain and the effects of modulation of gene expression at both the cellular and behavioral levels.

The results will help define a pharmacological approach to interfere with the target activity, paving the way for drug development efforts in the search for new therapies for major depression.

Our third project is a unique collaboration between our industry partners and a UK-based small-to-medium enterprise (SME) investigating GALR3 as a novel target for postpartum depression.

It is projects such as these that showcase the ambitions of the Psychiatry Consortium. Discovering novel ways of treating conditions such as schizophrenia, depression and postpartum depression can have a transformative effect on millions of lives across the globe. Through true, international collaboration, we believe we have the infrastructure and expertise to be successful.

Call for Project Proposals

The Psychiatry Consortium is accepting applications for project proposals until December 5, 2022. We are looking to fund projects that focus on the validation of novel molecular drug targets for mental health conditions, including mood disorders, psychosis, cognitive disorders, and psychiatric symptoms of dementia. The funding is open to universities, research institutes, and small companies (micro and medium, SME) worldwide.

At the initial application stage, we ask for a high-level summary of the proposed target and the biological link between the target and disease. Proposals demonstrating evidence of the link between a novel target and neural circuit, pathway, or disease mechanism, and with converging lines of evidence supporting that link, stand the best chance of success. Successful applicants will be invited to meet our industry partners to cocreate a project that builds on the available evidence and further validates the proposed target.

Submit your proposal today.

Engaging the Research Community

In addition to providing funding to support and translate research, we also offer learning exchanges and bring together charities, patients, clinicians, large pharma, and academics to understand and discuss ways to overcome barriers to effective psychiatric drug discovery.

Collaboration and engagement with the psychiatry research community is vital. To date, the Psychiatry Consortium has presented at 15 international conferences and delivered 10 webinars, 4 interactive workshops for global opinion leaders, and a virtual symposium with more than 1000 registrants. Our most recently published "Guiding Principles for Robust Target Validation in Psychiatry" document highlights key considerations deemed important by the drug discovery community when building a target validation package for novel therapeutic targets.

We hope the guidance will support applicants in building projects that address gaps in our knowledge and strengthen the body of evidence to support a target's role in a particular disease or condition and its potential as a therapeutic target.

The Psychiatry Consortium can only be successful if we engage with experts in the field. If you would like to work with us on a project or collaborate on a workshop or event, we would love to hear from you. You can find more information about what we are looking for and access other helpful resources at psychiatryconsortium.org.

To stay up-to-date with our activities, sign up to our mailing list. If you would like to find out more or work with us, contact us at pc@md.catapult.org.uk.

Dr Patel is partnership manager for the Psychiatry Consortium at Medicines Discovery Catapult.

References

1. UK mental health research funding 2014-17. MQ: Transforming Mental Health. Accessed May 14, 2022. https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/UKMentalHealthResearchFunding2014-2017digital.pdf

2. Results: cause of death or injury. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Global Health Data Exchange. 2022. Accessed May 14, 2022. https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-results/