Queensland scientists have identified tremendous opportunities to develop better treatments for mental health disorders based on major genetic breakthroughs over the past decade.
- One researcher says advances in identifying genes linked to mental health haven’t resulted in enough drug breakthroughs
- Could result in new treatments for psychiatric patients becoming available more quickly and cheaply
- Treatments for psychiatric patients could be found by repurposing approved drugs
Scientists at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute are among international collaborations that have identified hundreds of genes linked to a range of mental illnesses, thanks to DNA donated by millions of people and advances in supercomputing technology.
But statistical geneticist Eske Derks, head of QIMR Berghofer’s translational neurogenomics lab, said she was frustrated that genetic discoveries hadn’t yet translated into improved drug treatments for conditions like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and anorexia nervosa.
She has called on the international scientific community to usher in a new era of precision psychiatry by harnessing the many “extraordinary genetic discoveries” of the last 10 years to find better mental health treatments.
‘We have made so much progress in identifying these genes over the last 10 years,’ said Professor Derks.
“Let’s come together and think about how we can translate this information into better treatments. I think that will happen.
“It may take a few years, maybe even 10 years, but I think we will be able to find more effective treatments. We need to prepare as a community for the next decade.”
“We owe it to the donors”
In a paper published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Genetics, Professor Derks and his colleagues Jackson Thorp and Zachary Gerring identified translating genetic data into new psychiatric drug discovery as one of 10 key challenges in the field.
“We had an era of genetic discovery and now we are on the cusp of a new era of precision psychiatry that could offer more effective medicines for patients and help clinicians better diagnose and treat these complex conditions,” Professor Derks said.
“The challenges we have identified are not easy to solve, but with a creative, collaborative and coordinated approach to research – and investments that support scientists in this work – we could make this new era a reality.
“We owe it to the people who have generously donated their DNA and to those living with mental illness.”
Professor Derks saw a major opportunity in integrating genetic discoveries with large drug banks to find existing drugs that can be reused to treat mental disorders.
That would mean that new treatments for psychiatric patients would be available much more quickly and cheaply than experimental treatments that have not yet been tested for safety.
“It takes an average of 13 to 15 years to develop a new drug and costs between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion with only a 10 percent chance of clinical approval,” the researchers write in Nature Genetics.
“An alternative and less expensive approach to drug discovery is to repurpose approved drugs that have been tested for clinical efficacy to treat a disease different from the original indication.”
The QIMR-Berghofer scientists also called for further studies on the genes underlying mental health disorders to better understand their biology.
“Sometimes we don’t understand exactly what these genes do, what their biological mechanism is,” Professor Derks said.