A pharma/academic link-up has led to the creation of a huge database which the collaborators hope will lead to better treatments for psychiatric disorders.

NEWMEDS (Novel Methods leading to NeW MEdications in Depression and Schizophrenia), set up in September 2009 through the Innovative Medicines Initiative, is made up of seven academic research institutions, nine major pharmaceutical companies and three small and medium-sized enterprises. The companies pool resources to bring together data of 23,401 patients from 67 trials on 11 compounds in over 25 countries, representing "the single largest database of clinical trial data ever amassed in psychiatric research".

The consortium claims that "despite tremendous growth in biomedical knowledge, the deciphering of human genome and almost daily round of discoveries – the rate of development of new drugs has been slow". It adds that "this is especially true in psychiatric disorders".

NEWMEDS goes on to say that "one barrier to development has been the competitive relationship between rival companies and the other has been the limited exchange of science across the industry-academic divide". Its aim is therefore to overcome "three major bottlenecks in developing models and methods in drug discovery as they relate to schizophrenia and depression".

These bottlenecks are a "lack of accurate animal models to guide drug discovery, lack of tools and tests in healthy volunteers that can provide early indication of efficacy and reliance on a clinical trial methodology that has remained rather unchanged for 50 years".

Jonathan Rabinowitz of the Bar Ilan University, Israel, who is leading the analysis of the schizophrenia data says that "for 50 years we have been doing trials the same way – with a standard placebo or active control, for four-six weeks and using the same statistical approaches". He added that by "bringing together this large dataset, we have a unique opportunity to see whether patients who get better on placebo – for the first time, and we have over 2,000 of them – are somehow different".

Dr Rabinowitz concluded by saying that "we will be able to identify if trials could be smaller, faster and can decrease exposure of patients to experimental medications". The pharmaceutical companies involved are AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Lundbeck, Novartis, Orion, Pfizer, Roche and Servier.