Delivering the next generation drug discovery pipeline; New approaches to target identification and target validation

A workshop co-hosted by the Psychiatry Consortium and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium

Psychiatric drug discovery has the potential to be re-invigorated by recent advances in genomics. Increases in whole genome sequencing and larger genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have yielded an unprecedented trove of new knowledge about the genetic underpinnings of psychiatric diseases and, with it, a host of novel targets and biological pathways now implicated in disease.

However, the major challenge of turning interesting potential drug discovery targets into successful drug discovery projects remains.

On 1st May 2020, Medicines Discovery Catapult’s Psychiatry Consortium and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium co-hosted a workshop to bring together key opinion leaders and experts from the worlds of pharma, biotech, academia and the charity sector to discuss the challenges that arise in the early stages of the psychiatric drug discovery pipeline and how we can collaborate to take advantage of opportunities in these areas in future.

The workshop reached out to a global audience with contributors from across Europe, USA and UK.


Across all groups, despite varied expertise, research background and current role, the same key issues were raised.

Firstly, a more sophisticated understanding of the emerging genomic studies and what this means for drug discovery is needed. Only then, with a clear genetic link to a therapeutic hypothesis in a patient population, can we have increased confidence of success.

Secondly, translatable preclinical models, both cellular and animal, are required that better replicate the heterogeneity of the human condition.

Finally, the workshop concluded that collaboration is the key to success for advancing psychiatric drug discovery.


To enable collaboration, we need a better handover between disciplines and a systematic and structured pathway to take an identified target through the drug discovery process.

Action is required from all parties to ensure knowledge and data from academia and industry are shared more effectively.

Recommendations were defined, including:

  • Focused outputs from genomic studies to enable translation
  • Patient-led activity throughout the target validation process
  • Preclinical drug discovery to be supported by both in vivo and vitro systems
  • Improved clinical assessments enabling identification and progression of only the relevant targets
  • Clear line of sight from the bench to the clinic for pharma and funders

These recommendations are fully detailed in the workshop report.

The report has been disseminated across the psychiatric research community and promoted by the British Association for Psychopharmacology, British Psychological Society, Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium as well as all those who attended.


By recognising the challenges and opportunities for growth in this space, we will encourage scientists from all research backgrounds to work collaboratively and explore new approaches to drug discovery in psychiatry.

Coming together as a community is helping to identify gaps in the drug discovery process.

Consortia such as the Psychiatry Consortium can support academics to translate and validate targets to industry standards and bridge the gap between academia and industry; academic experts, ‘Gene whisperers’, can play a key role by identifying the critical nodes in biological pathways where pharmacological intervention can influence specific phenotypic presentations that we often see in the clinic; and clinicians, translational scientists, and those with a lived experience of mental health, all have an important role to play in linking pre-clinical drug discovery to unmet clinical needs.

Attendee feedback

“I must say that I enjoyed all the talks and, my goodness, I learned so much!  It is a seriously impressive group and the work they are doing is amazing. I still have it mind to contact a couple of the speakers who had findings that are of particular interest to me.”

“The session offered a great opportunity for me to integrate insights from these diverse areas to inform the GWAS to pharma pipeline.”

“Thank you so much for organizing and leading us through such a wonderful session.”

“Thank you very much for the invitation to the workshop, I really enjoyed the discussion.”