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24 January, 2006 - 10:34 By Staff Reporter

Bio start-up may revolutionise treatment of mental disorders

A new Cambridge biotech is on the brink of raising £2.25 million to kickstart research that could completely revolutionise the treatment of two of the world’s most chronic and disabling mental disorders.

University of Cambridge start-up, PsyNova Ltd, has been set up to exploit pioneering work from the Institute of Biotechnology’s (IoB) Bahn laboratory into the molecular causes of neuropsychiatric disorders, focusing initially on schizophrenia and biopolar affective disorder – manic depression.

Between them these two disorders affect one in every 50 people, yet so little is known about their causes that the efficacy of drug treatments has remained pretty much unchanged over the last half century.

PsyNova’s novel biomarkers, however, could provide the basis for an entirely new family of drugs and the firm is already generating considerable interest from big pharma keen to harness its groundbreaking work, al-though talks are at the very early stages.

Dr Paul Rodgers, chairman of PsyNova and Smart Hologram, another Prof Lowe venture, said: "We are talking to a number of pharmaceuticals, but are focused on getting the first investment together.

"We were incorporated in August last year and are only just up and running.

"At the moment we are drafting the investment document and hope to have the funding completed by the end of February."

The Cambridge University Challenge Fund (UCF) will provide a portion of the funding and is expected to be joined by one major venture capitalist firm.

PsyNova’s IP is owned by the University and a number of patent applications have been filed over the last 18 months.

Initial revenues will come from the sale of its biomarker portfolio and laboratory expertise, which other pharmaceuticals can use with their own compounds.

Dr Rodgers believes that further funding of around £5m will be needed for 2007 as the company’s work on its own drug targets intensifies.

Dr Bahn said: "We have some drug targets and hope to get to work on them. Preliminary preclinical work would begin this year or near the beginning of next year, certainly within the next 18 months.

"While we only intend to share biomarkers for pharmaceuticals to use with their own compounds, we would probably have to interact with big pharma on Phase III or maybe Phase II of clinical trials as we wouldn’t have the capability."

PsyNova’s expertise could eventually enable it to move into other therapeutic areas such as depression, substance abuse and sleep and eating disorders.

The Bahn laboratory is an internationally recognised scientific team and now works within the newly-established Centre for Neuropsychiatric Research (CCNR).

Over the last five years, the group completed one of the most extensive ‘omics’ study to date on post mortem brain from 150 subjects.

Fifty had suffered with schizophrenia, 50 with bipolar affective disorder and 50 were controls.

These formed the basis for the new scientific hypotheses relating to the pathophysiology of the two disorders.

Dr Bahn said: "The etiology behind these is not understood. Clearly there is a genetic influence and environmental factors, but it is not known which genes would predispose a person to them.

"A study of the efficacy of the old drugs and newer drugs saw no difference between the two so there is an enormous need for empirically arrived targets.

"If we know the molecular pathology the we can target the disorder more specifically rather than just block receptors.

"By having biomarkers we can adjust and make a more personalised treatment. Hopefully we’ll be able to reduce side-effects and maybe sometimes even prevent the onset of schizophrenia."

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