Breakthrough Genetic Findings and Historic Donation Spur Mental Health Research

Biopharmaceutical Industry Committed to Discovery and Development of New Therapies for Patients Despite Challenges

07.25.14 | By Dr. Bill Chin

Mental health conditions affect 1 in 4 Americans and take a heavy economic toll on the United States. Efforts to find effective treatments for conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and substance abuse disorders continue despite difficult hurdles and setbacks. Researchers face a number of challenges in finding new treatments for mental illnesses -- including a limited understanding of how current treatments work in the brain; a lack of biomarkers that help clinicians diagnose accurately, measure disease progression and assess treatment response; and the complexity of mental disorders themselves.  These challenges are compounded by the stigma unfortunately associated with mental illness that may discourage people from seeking medical treatment and adhering to their medicines.

Despite these challenges, the biopharmaceutical industry is committed to the discovery and development of new treatments, as evidenced by the 119 medicines in development for mental and addictive disorders.  Working in collaboration  with academia, government researchers, policymakers, and patient organizations, biopharmaceutical companies seek to apply new scientific approaches and contribute to the evolving knowledge of mental illness to bring new solutions to individuals who face mental disorders. 

Two exciting recent announcements infuse new hope. Earlier this week the Broad Institute, a biomedical research center affiliated with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced a $650 million donation for psychiatric research from the Stanley Family Foundation. The donation will be used to continue the genetic analysis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and related illnesses and will also be applied to research and study brain cells with the ultimate goal of developing novel treatments for mental illness.

The announcement coincides with the publication of the largest analysis to date on the genetics of schizophrenia in the peer-reviewed journal Nature in which researchers have identified more than 100 regions of DNA associated with schizophrenia, many of which could help guide the search for effective treatments. Researchers analyzed data from 150,000 participants -- 37,000 of whom had schizophrenia and 114,000 did not -- to identify genes common across participants and specifically among those with schizophrenia to understand the impact of genes in the disease.

Continued collaboration such as public private partnerships like the NEWMEDS (‘Novel methods leading to new medications in depression and schizophrenia’) project between government, academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies, and discussions, such as the recent  Capitol Hill briefing on mental health, are critical to achieve advances in treating mental illness.  With broad support of all stakeholders, we hope to bring to life new treatments that will change the face of mental illness for patients now and in the future.

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