Bringing a new generation of drugs to patients

Cardiff University is stepping up the development of new drugs for mental health and central nervous system conditions, with the launch of the Medicines Discovery Institute.

Focusing on areas of unmet clinical need, the new institute will develop novel medications to improve the lives of people across the world.

Part funded by the Welsh Government, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the European Regional Development Fund, the £14 million centre aims to put Wales at the forefront of medical innovation.

The Institute, which is located within the highly successful School of Biosciences, will also provide an excellent opportunity for training and inspiring the next generation of medicines discovery scientists.

One of the Institute’s first big projects will focus on improving anxiety medications - an area of research where there have been no major advances since early 1960. Thanks to a major investment of £3.5 million from the Medical Research Council, the team will focus on the development of drugs that reduce the side effects associated with the benzodiazepine class of anxiolytic drugs.

Another new grant from the MRC will allow the team to develop improved medication options for people with fragile X syndrome - the most common inherited cause of learning disabilities. Focusing on a protein known to regulate the connections between nerve cells, the team aim to develop a novel medication that will make a difference to the lives of individuals and their families living with the condition.

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “Investing in new scientific research is vital to our universities and the long-term health of the wider Welsh economy. Our £95m SÍr Cymru programme is instrumental in keeping Wales ahead of the game in many areas of scientific innovation.

Peter Halligan, the Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, said: “I am really pleased to be involved in the launch of the Medicines Discovery Institute as it provides another opportunity to demonstrate how the SÍr Cymru programme continues to contribute to Wales’ growing research capacity. The discovery and development of new drugs and diagnostics is a challenging area which takes many years, but has the potential to impact the lives of patients world-wide.

“The Medicines Discovery Institute represents a further step forward in the Welsh Government ambition for making high quality, productive, impactful research happen in Wales, and in the process ensure that Wales remains competitive in the global economy. The SÍr Cymru programme is working towards creating a step change in research capacity and locating Wales firmly on the map as a centre of scientific discovery.”

Professor Simon Ward, Director of the Medicines Discovery Institute, said: “Patients are at the centre of the vision for our institute. Our ultimate aim is to reduce the impact on patients, families and society of mental health and neurodegenerative disorders by translating advances in our disease understanding into new drugs.

“We also intend to use our drug discovery capabilities to work with colleagues across Cardiff University to address other unmet medical needs, such as cancer.

“Our Institute is multidisciplinary, bringing together experts from many scientific disciplines so that we can work together to discover new medicines.

Professor John Atack, Co-Director of the Medicines Discovery Institute, added: “At the Medicines Discovery Institute, we are bringing together world-leading scientists to help identify new drug candidates.

“The exceptional scientific environment within the Cardiff area means we are ideally placed to translate basic science into patient benefit.”

Anxiety UK Chief Executive Nicky Lidbetter said: “The launch of the Medicines Discovery Unit at Cardiff University is a welcome development that will provide state of the art facilities to support the development of new treatments and medications for a range of conditions including anxiety disorders. We are already linked in with the work being undertaken by Prof John Atack in developing the next generation of benzodiazepines and welcome this and indeed new research on anxiety disorders as historically this area of mental health has not received the research attention that it deserves in spite of such disorders being so prevalent in society.