LONDON – Nine major pharmaceutical companies have agreed to pool data on drug trials with academic institutions in an effort to improve ways of developing of new medicines to treat psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

The collaboration, which involves Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Roche among others, will bring together data on 67 trials on 11 licensed drugs and will make up the largest database of clinical trial data in psychiatric research, according to the project's leaders.

"We have learnt a lot of brain science in the last 30 years ... and the expectation is that this knowledge would automatically and quickly translate into new medications," said Shitij Kapur of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, a leaders of the project called Novel Methods leading to New Medications in Depression and Schizophrenia, or NEWMEDS.

"But that is where the track record has been a little disappointing."

Kapur said the aim of NEWMEDS was for scientific researchers and drug companies to learn from past experience and devise ways to speed up and simplify the process of getting a potential drug candidate through clinical trials and onto the market.

"Hopefully, this will be one step that will help reverse the drought of new medications in psychiatry," he said.

One barrier to development has been competition between rival companies, he said, while another has been the limited exchange of science across the industry-academic divide.


In a statement NEWMEDS pointed to three bottlenecks in drug discovery for psychiatric disorders, including a lack of accurate animal models for experimentation, a lack of tools and tests in healthy volunteers to give early indications of whether drugs might work, and reliance on clinical trial methodology that has remained virtually unchanged for 50 years.

The drug firms involved will not disclose information about experimental drugs they are developing but will share data on drugs that have already won approval to be marketed.

Eli Lilly, for example, will share data from trials of its schizophrenia drug Risperdal, or risperidone, while AstraZeneca will open up its archives on Seroquel, or quetiapine.

"For 50 years we have been doing trials the same way -- with a standard placebo or active control, for four to six weeks and using the same statistical approaches," said Jonathan Rabinowitz of Bar Ilan University in Israel, who will lead analysis of the schizophrenia data for the NEWMEDS project.

"By bringing together this large dataset ... we will be able to identify if trials could be smaller, faster and can decrease exposure of patients to experimental medications."

Academic institutions involved include Sweden's Karolinska Institute, Britain's Cambridge and Manchester universities, the Spanish National Research Council and Germany's Central Institute of Mental Health.

The other drugmakers are Johnson & Johnson's unit Janssen Pharmaceutica, Lundbeck, Novartis, Orion and privately-owned Servier.