The development of new treatments for schizophrenia is a very tough challenge. Despite the development of a wide range of preclinical models and the tremendous efforts put into translational research, the availability of compounds with novel mechanism of action remains scarce. Numerous sessions at the Schizophrenia International Research Society Conference that took place in Florence in early April, discussed recent data stemming from preclinical and clinical testing of new therapeutic agents and antipsychotics.
The encountered difficulties are due to the fact that schizophrenia ended up being a disease far more complex than what the research community had first envisioned. The etiology of schizophrenia involves the interaction of both genetic vulnerability and environmental risk factors. This is now widely recognized, in the neuroscience community, as the stress-vulnerability model. Moreover, a recent project using Whole Human Genome Sequencing and performed on a large pool of schizophrenic patients identified more than 1000 genes that could be risk genes for schizophrenia. This explains the failure of the quest for a single universal cure for such a heterogeneous disease. In light of these last findings, important initiatives have begun to identify different subtypes of schizophrenia in order to facilitate drug development and to come closer to personalized or precision medicine.
However, the task is gigantic and despite the promise that this process holds, we still face the challenge of improving the lives of our current patients. Speakers from industry and academia reviewed strategies to improve the success rate in current drug development efforts. Several high profile disappointments in clinical testing and the increasing challenge of preserving the implication of large pharma companies (ex: Novartis shut down its Neuroscience branch in 2010) in CNS research underlines the necessity of these efforts.