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News Brief: Schizophrenia Dropped From Public-Private Partnership

March 18, 2014. In a disappointing turn of events, schizophrenia has been dropped from an important new public-private partnership, writes Steven E. Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the September 14 issue of the journal Science. The Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) combines the forces of the National Institutes of Health and 10 large pharmaceutical companies to take on projects that are deemed too large or risky for either government or industry to tackle alone. The consortium will take on Alzheimer's disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Until recently, schizophrenia was being considered for the AMP as the only representative of the psychiatric disorders.

As with most other mental illnesses, the prospects for better and safer treatments for schizophrenia have dimmed in recent years as drug companies have pulled out of the area, citing a lack of new scientific leads. However, Hyman, formerly director of the National Institute of Mental Health, writes that, "Much about this grim scientific picture has changed in the past five years."

He argues that genetic studies are adding "a large and rapidly growing number" of genes that create risk for schizophrenia, as well as bipolar disorder, autism, and others. "Molecular pathways involved in neuronal function are emerging from the data and are beginning to suggest drug targets," Hyman writes.

If the AMP, designed for just such a purpose, will not tackle the complex puzzles of mental illness, who will? Hyman writes that, "The scientific community, including industry, academia, patient groups, and government, must find ways of sharing financial risk while developing effective and well-governed partnerships. Otherwise, important basic science investments will go untranslated while patients and society continue to bear painful and costly burdens."—Hakon Heimer.

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