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Prof. Yonatan Rabinowitz from Bar-Ilan University is one of the leaders of an international project designed to lead to a breakthrough in the development of drugs for common mental illnesses

An unusual course of cooperation between leading pharmaceutical companies and the academic and business sectors may yield drugs for schizophrenia and depression.

Prof. Yonatan Rabinovitch, Bar-Ilan University
Prof. Yonatan Rabinovitch, Bar-Ilan University

These days there was an announcement about an unusual initiative in the medical community: giant pharmaceutical companies, entrepreneurs and research institutes have joined together to promote the development of drugs for two common mental illnesses - schizophrenia and depression. The problem is burning. Despite the enormous progress of knowledge in the field of molecular biology, the deciphering of the human genome that yields new discoveries every day, and despite tremendous efforts by all parties involved in drug development, the rate of development of new drugs is decreasing. This is particularly evident in drugs intended for psychiatric illnesses. Here the main barrier is the growing competition between rival pharmaceutical companies on the one hand, and the limited exchange of information between academia and industry.

"We were able to bring together seven academic research institutions, nine leading pharmaceutical companies in the market and four entrepreneurs, into a corporation that should bypass the bottleneck created in the development of psychiatric drugs. This is the first time these people are sitting together," says Prof. Yonatan Rabinowitz from the School of Social Work at Bar-Ilan University. "The tough competition prevents communication between these bodies, but beyond that there is a problem in the matter itself - there is a bottleneck that is responsible for delaying the development of psychiatric drugs. This bottleneck is caused by a lag in the development of animal models, that is, the development of laboratory animals that demonstrate the human disease and allow it to be studied. In addition, there is a lack of devices and tests that will evaluate healthy volunteers and provide early data on the effectiveness of drugs, and finally the stagnation of the methodology of the clinical trials, which has not changed in 50 years. Our goal is to develop methods that will allow us to more accurately and efficiently research the potential drugs on the one hand and shorten the duration of the experiments and the size of the samples on the other hand. This way we can promote the development of new preparations and save hundreds of millions of dollars

In order to find how to improve clinical research, the various companies and bodies must share the knowledge and scientific facts they have and find new ways to predict which treatment might work for which patient. It is known that there are differences in the response of different patients to the same drug. The new generation of drugs will be based on personalization. In the past, it was not possible to promote trials of personalization for a particular drug because the samples were too small. Now, as a result of the huge collaboration, genetic and clinical information will flow to those involved in the project along with information on drug response from thousands of patients and from this it will be possible to identify groups of people with a high tendency to respond to certain drugs. This will constitute the largest database in the world on the response of depressive and schizophrenic patients to medication, from which conclusions will be drawn as to what affects the response to medication.

Ten working groups from universities and pharmaceutical companies participate in the project. Prof. Rabinowitz from Bar-Ilan University directs the working group that deals with advanced methods for data analysis. In an unprecedented step in schizophrenia research, under Rabinowitz's management, the companies consolidated the raw data into one database containing data from 23,401 anonymous patients, 67 medical trials to test 11 leading substances in 25 countries. Rabinovitz's group is now working on building a similar database in the field of antidepressants that will enable the testing of innovative strategies for data analysis and insights into streamlining research. The project is funded by pharmaceutical companies and the European Union.

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