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Experts involved in £3.3m collaboration to progress new drug


Newcastle University is part of a pioneering multi-million pound collaboration focused on the development of a treatment to help patients with schizophrenia.

The £3.3 million research project, involving Newcastle, Manchester University and drug company Autifony Therapeutics Limited, is aimed at progressing a new drug into clinical trials to help patients with the serious condition.
A key aspect of the project is to look at how the drug, AUT00206, may have the potential to treat positive, cognitive and also negative symptoms of the disease, which would represent a significant breakthrough for schizophrenia patients.
Dr Mark Cunningham and Dr Fiona LeBeau are working together at Newcastle University to carry out a detailed study of the new drug’s mechanisms before clinical trials begin.
“It is very exciting to be involved in this collaborative research project,” said Dr Cunningham, a senior lecturer in neuronal dynamics at the Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, and honorary clinical research fellow in clinical neurophysiology at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
“More effective treatments for schizophrenia are required to help improve the outcomes of patients with the condition. We are working to try and understand the way the new drug may influence circuits in the brain to help deal with symptoms of schizophrenia.
“It is thought that the drug may act to modulate a particular type of small pore, or ion channel, that is found in a certain type of brain cell. In schizophrenia it is thought that this particular ion channel is not working as well as it should.
“We want to see whether the drug is capable of modulating the target ion channel and bring about changes in the electrical activity of brain cells that will aid in relieving the symptoms associated with the condition.
“It is fantastic that Newcastle University is part of such a strong group of experts to develop a potential new treatment for patients dealing with this difficult and complex illness.”
It is believed that circuits in the brain of those with schizophrenia are dysfunctional and therefore, if altered, this could help to alleviate debilitating symptoms of the disorder, such as hallucinations, delusions and disorganised speech.
Newcastle University has already been part of a research project which focused on the ion channels and identified the specific molecule to target the new treatment. The multi-million pound funding from the Biomedical Catalyst, Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council is being used to progress the drug into clinical trials.
Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric illness that has seen diminishing investment in research in recent years and remains an area of high unmet medical need. Existing schizophrenia treatments demonstrate poor efficiency for many patients as well as causing considerable side-effects such as weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and movement related problems.
Approximately one in 100 people will experience schizophrenia in their lifetime and the condition imposes a huge social and financial burden. Particularly debilitating are the cognitive symptoms such as poor decision making, attention and memory issues.
Patients with the condition have a poor quality of life and prognosis. Anti-psychotics are the main treatment, but up to 70% of patients do not have their condition adequately controlled by existing therapies.
Dr Charles Large, chief executive officer for Autifony Therapeutics Limited, said: “We are very excited to have the opportunity provided by this funding to take the company’s second programme into clinical trials.
“Novel and more effective treatments for schizophrenia are desperately needed and the ion channels that we are targeting are closely implicated in brain circuits which are believed to be dysfunctional in schizophrenia.
“We are looking forward to continuing the excellent partnership with Dr Cunningham. Our academic partners will join us in bringing the latest techniques and thinking to bear on this important health challenge.”

Photo caption: Dr Mark Cunningham 

published on: 16 April 2015