University of Maryland announces $24 million research initiative to find new treatments for schizophrenia

September 27, 1999

The University of Maryland School of Medicine will receive $24 million over six years from the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis Pharma AG to discover new treatments for schizophrenia. This collaboration brings together one of the country's leading academic research centers in schizophrenia and one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies.

The partnership will initiate important basic research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC). Located at the Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, the MPRC is a joint program of the University and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH).

MPRC scientists are on the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in the Department of Psychiatry. MPRC has a distinguished international reputation in science, and has received prestigious awards from the National Institutes of Health to operate a Center for Neuroscience and Schizophrenia, a Clinical Research Center, and an Intervention Research Center.

"This contract -- the largest in School of Medicine history -- will enable our faculty to look for new therapies in the treatment of schizophrenia," said Donald E. Wilson, MD, MACP, Dean, School of Medicine, and Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland.

"This collaboration highlights the excellence of our researchers, particularly in the area of neuroscience, who are recognized as being in the top tier in medical research institutions," added Dr. Wilson.

"There has been no major breakthrough in treating schizophrenia since anti-psychotic medications were introduced 45 years ago, but current science provides new leads, which we are eager to pursue," said William T. Carpenter, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of MPRC. "This agreement will give us the resources to gain a better understanding of the disease and go on to develop and test new approaches."

Schizophrenia affects up to 1 percent of the world's population, including about 2.7 million Americans. It has a significant impact on the lives of patients and their loved ones. Anti-psychotic medications often have unpleasant side effects and do not help all patients. There is no established treatment for some core features of the illness.

"This partnership highlights the world-class expertise of scientists at the University of Maryland," according to David J. Ramsay, DM, DPhil, president of the University. Novartis has a similar partnership with the University of Maryland's Program on the Genetics of Asthma and Complex Diseases.

"This partnership demonstrates our ability to compete internationally for research funds. Recent legislation and the support of the governor have made public-private partnerships like this one possible," Dr. Ramsay said.

Novartis has had a long, significant and successful role in psychiatric pharmaceutical research marked by the discovery and introduction of breakthrough therapies such as the antipsychotic MellerilR (thioridazine) in the 1950's, and the schizophrenia drug LeponexR/ClozarilR (clozapine) in the 1970s. Zomarilä (iloperidone), a new antipsychotic currently in clinical development, highlights Novartis' continued commitment to research in the treatment of schizophrenia.

"Novartis views this collaboration as creating an opportunity for new therapies through the development of novel models of schizophrenia, by identifying protein and gene abnormalities in the brain, and by testing concepts with brain imaging techniques which allows scientists to picture events in the human brain," commented Paul Herrling, Global Head of Novartis Pharma Research.

Finding better drug treatment for schizophrenia has been hampered by a lack of understanding at the molecular level of what causes the disease. One area of focus for the research will be finding ways to treat schizophrenia patients who have "negative" symptoms. Patients with negative symptoms are limited in the experience and expression of emotion, have reduced drive and motivation, and function poorly in occupational and social opportunities. There are no effective drug treatments for these symptoms. Psychiatry is much further advanced in treating "positive" or psychotic symptoms, which include delusions (false beliefs), hallucinations (hearing voices, seeing false images), and disorganization of thinking.

"We have great expectations for this new collaboration with the University of Maryland and Novartis," said DHMH Secretary Georges C. Benjamin, MD. "This continued research on schizophrenia greatly expands our understanding of the disease and provides us with a unique opportunity to offer cutting-edge treatment to Maryland citizens with serious mental illness."

In addition to the Novartis agreement, the University of Maryland School of Medicine has $138 million in research agreements and contracts. It ranks 13th among public medical schools in direct NIH funding and 32nd in total research funding among the country's 125 medical schools.

University of Maryland Medical Center

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