Research to tackle mental illness bolstered with $10 million

Research focused on improving mental health treatment and care has been recognised with major funding grants announced by the Federal Government today.

More than $53 million in funding across 47 mental health projects was announced by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) this morning.

Almost $10 million was awarded to a program led by Professor Patrick Sexton, Head of Drug Discovery Biology at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS).

This program brings together Australia’s leading researchers in GPCR biology (Professor Patrick Sexton and Professor Arthur Christopoulos, Monash University), in neuropsychiatric disease (Professor Christos Pantelis, University of Melbourne) and in cell biology (Professor. Rob Parton, University of Queensland) to provide unique insight into overcoming the high clinical attrition in drug development.

The program focuses on one of the most important classes of drug targets, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and how these can be better targeted to improve treatment of a broad range of diseases, including cognitive and psychiatric disorders, diabetes, obesity and heart failure.

In particular, the research will advance the translational success of preclinical drug development by providing unprecedented understanding of novel modes of drug action and how cellular context and disease progression alter drug responses.

Professor Sexton said the work would integrate clinical insight into disease evolution with a deep understanding of cellular function and novel drug action to optimise drug candidate selection tailored to patient disease progression.

“The long-term NHMRC program grant support has been critical to the evolution in our current understanding of GPCR biology and ongoing research success, and we are delighted that this has been acknowledged through renewal of our funding,” Professor Sexton said.

Professor Arthur Christopoulos said the potential for new step-change in targeting these receptors is exciting.

"We are excited by the opportunities arising from the new collaborations with Professors. Chris Pantelis and Rob Parton, who are absolute standouts in their respective fields” Professor Arthur Christopoulos said.

Dr David Thal, from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, also received a project grant to study structure and dynamics of drug interaction with muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. The M1, M4 and M5 receptor subtypes are promising targets for the treatment of cognitive disorders, psychosis and addiction. Dr. Thal’s work will accelerate the development of novel selective drugs to treat these diseases.