In June 2019, Medicines Discovery Catapult, MQ: Transforming mental health and Alzheimer’s Research UK announced an innovative drug discovery consortium with industry, supported by Wellcome.
The consortium will identify novel drug targets to address the unmet therapeutic needs of people living with mental health conditions, including psychiatric symptoms associated with dementia.
“People living with dementia don’t just experience memory problems, many also face challenging behavioural symptoms such as anxiety and aggression. While we continue to fund research into disease modifying treatments, it is vital that we also look for drugs that help relieve psychiatric symptoms associated with dementia, and the Psychiatry Consortium will help accelerate the progress of these desperately needed medicines.”
Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK
The scale and impact of mental illness and dementia across society is huge.
One in ten children, and one in four adults, approximately 15 million people in the UK, experience mental illness each year, affecting their wellbeing, relationships, and potential ability to work. The economic and social cost has been estimated at £105bn a year in England alone.
Dementia affects over 850,000 people in the UK and is now the country’s leading cause of death, costing £26bn a year. Yet, only 4.5% of the total medical research budget was allocated to dementia in 2016/17.
Despite this prevalence and need to discover new medicines for a variety of psychiatric conditions, there has been a dramatic fall in psychiatric drug discovery over the last ten years, due in part to the high failure rates of clinical trials in this field.
With only 5.8% of the total UK research budget dedicated to mental health research, funding falls dramatically short of what is required, lagging behind
many other conditions. Without sustained research investment, patients will not receive the genuine breakthroughs in treatment needed to treat their conditions better.
Effective drug-discovery collaborations between academia and industry
Anchored to patients by the leading medical charities and managed by Medicines Discovery Catapult, the consortium will foster new and truly needed innovative research approaches to revitalise psychiatric drug discovery.
The Psychiatry Consortium launched its first call for research projects in October 2019. Applicants from academic and other research organisations worldwide were encouraged to apply for funding. Research projects will:
- Focus on novel molecular targets for mental health conditions including psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, stress-related disorders, PTSD, OCD, autism spectrum disorders, as well as psychiatric symptoms associated with dementia and other cognitive disorders.
- Generate evidence that links molecular targets to human disease and evidence of target modulation having a therapeutic effect.
- Enable tools for target validation, e.g. tool compounds, biomarkers, assays, and models.
Pharma commitment to invest in psychiatry disease
Managed by Medicines Discovery Catapult, the Psychiatry Consortium has established the following member organisations:
- Alzheimer’s Research UK
- Boehringer Ingelheim
- Johnson & Johnson Innovation
- MQ: Transforming mental health
- Charles River Laboratories
Collectively, the strategic partners aim to provide approximately £3 million in research funding over three years, to deliver up to 10 high-value drug discovery projects.
The ambition of the Psychiatry Consortium for the next three years is to revitalise drug discovery in psychiatry disease by strengthening academic-industry collaborations. It will provide a mechanism to ‘pull-through’ academic ideas and validate them to industry standards, enabling their pre-clinical development and, ultimately translation to the clinic. The first challenge call is a key milestone to enable the much-needed drug pipeline of the future.
“At the moment, too many people living with a mental illness are going without the effective help they need. There has been a dearth of innovation in drug treatments with most drugs developed in the 1970s and ’80s and many being associated with varying degrees of unwanted side effects. This Psychiatry Consortium is an important step in stimulating much-needed advances in the area. Throughout the process, MQ will ensure that people affected by mental illness are at the heart of the research funded.”
Dr Eva Wolbert, Senior Portfolio Manager of MQ: Transforming mental health
“This strategic collaboration signals tangible progress in changing the shape of UK innovation in medicines discovery. The Catapult believes that the future of medicines discovery has the patient at its heart. This Consortium shows that industry, academia and charities believe that too. The UK Government has prioritised addressing mental health and Innovate UK is playing its role in delivery. We share the Consortium’s vision and proudly support the Catapult in its ongoing mission to support the sector by delivering multiple technology and process improvements.”
Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK