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Mental Health Industry Day

31 May 2018

Director of NMHRI, Jeremy Hall, networking
Jeremy Hall, Director NMHRI

The Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute’s (NMHRI) and MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics recently co-hosted a mental health industry day at the Hadyn Ellis Building, welcoming over one hundred attendees.

The day’s programme was made up of the directors and leading investigators of the various centres and institutes that make up the neuroscience and mental health landscape at the University, including the National Centre for Mental Health, BRAIN Unit, Dementia Research Institute and the Medicines Discovery Institute.

There were also representatives from outside academia to discuss their work, their experiences of partnering with universities and the potential for future collaborations. Speakers included Dr Abel Urta-Vidal representing Eagle Genomics, Dr Jack Cotter from Cambridge Cognition, Dr Gerry Dawson from P1vital, Dr Sheuli Porkess from The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and Dr Ruth McKernan from Innovate UK.

Professor Adrian Harwood, Co-Director NMHRI and Dr Ruth McKernan, CEO of Innovate UK
Professor Adrian Harwood, Co-Director NMHRI and Dr Ruth McKernan, CEO of Innovate UK

The networking breaks between talks also gave attendees the opportunity to meet early career researchers and discuss their work.

Industry Day MRC information stand
Hayley Moulding and Sinead Morrison

Professor Adrian Harwood, Co-Director of the NMHRI introduced the centre’s first industry day.

He commented on the aims of the day, “We’re keen to get everyone together to explore how our science can interact and form partnerships with industry in order to generate the outcome we’re all interested in, which is to improve understanding of mental health, better diagnostics, better healthcare, better strategies and improved therapies, including drug therapies.”

He continued to describe the innovation and research Cardiff University prides itself on, “This is reflected in the actual site we’re on, this is one of the buildings that will fill this translational research campus.

“We believe we have excellence in neuroscience, this is reflected by the superb work coming out of the institute across all ranges of neuroscience, particularly genetics. It’s recognised by funders, such as The Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council (MRC) and Welsh Government.”

He summarised his introduction with a note on the reality mental health research is faced with, “We are a global leader but we’re not complacent. We know it’s a huge job to take this forward and get to real world solutions for the issues in mental health. We know we can’t do this on our own and we really need to be forming partnerships and interactions with industry and other people that know how to take us forward. This day aims to make really big differences and form productive relationships.”

“Today is really about trying to showcase what we do and try and explore how we can interact, how we can form partnerships and also think about this in the bigger context of the industrial strategy in the UK.”

Jo Parry, Medicine Drug Discovery Institute, Manager
Jo Parry, Medicine Drug Discovery Institute, Manager

The first speaker following Professor Harwood’s introduction was Professor Sir Michael Owen, Director of the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (CNGG). He addressed the challenges faced in psychiatry today.

“We have a set of disorders that have a huge impact globally. Five of the top ten diseases contributing to global burden are psychiatric disorders. Yet our ability to treat these disorders is very limited.

“Some of the barriers to developing new treatments are that we don’t understand the mechanisms of these diseases and diagnostic groups are poorly defined. The consequence of these difficulties is that we haven’t had any drug advances. The mission of our centre was to try and use genetics and genomics to try and break this cycle of despair, to understand the pathogenesis and classification of major psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

“In terms of collaborating with industry, we need to be looking for classification. We need to start getting genomics into interaction with phenotypic data at a large scale and focusing on how we can use genomic data to identify networks of genes and targets of drugs.”

Director of the NMHRI, Professor Jeremy Hall followed Professor Owens’ analysis that there is an area of massive need and a huge potential commercial market in this failure to create new treatments.

He continued, “This area of unmet need can now be addressed. There is hope that through a combination of genetics work and neuroscience advances, there is a real opportunity to shift things in this sector in a way we haven’t seen previously.

“The mission is to gain further understanding and treatment of brain disorders by uniting Cardiff’s strengths in genetics, psychiatry, neuroscience, psychology and related disciplines. We recognise that we can’t do this alone so we look outside for collaborations with academic partners but very much collaborations with commercial entities as well.

“Cardiff has major programmes for gene discovery, neuroscience and basic biology related to these disorders, world leading brain imaging facilities and excellent links into regional population. It is a great integrated environment for studying brain diseases with lots of opportunities for collaboration. We need to look at how we can leverage these discoveries to make them more impactful and more meaningful on a bigger scale by working with partners.”

External speakers throughout the day included Dr Jack Cotter from Cambridge cognition, a neuroscience digital health company focusing on developing products and services to better understand, detect and treat conditions affecting brain health in people worldwide.

Dr Cotter pointed out, “Academia’s involvement with industry should be a bi-directional thing and there’s a lot to be said about what recent developments in industry can actually help to drive forward new advances in academia. The advantages of industry is that it can put resources in place much more efficiently and quickly than academia.”

Dr Gerry Dawson from P1vital also illustrated how to get from science to business by taking scientific ideas, developing them and creating spin-out companies to commercialise them. Dr Dawson highlighted, “There are around three hundred and fifty million patients with depression globally and two thirds fail to get better with the first antidepressant prescribed. We believe that digital technologies will shape the future of clinical trials and healthcare.”

The day was wrapped up by a Q & A on mental health and the industrial strategy by Dr Ruth McKernan, CEO of Innovate UK, where she discussed the industrial strategy and outlined how much money the UK should aim to spend on research and development.

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