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Impact story

MRC Consortium works with industry to support a trial into anti-inflammatory drug for depression

21 Aug 2017

This case study forms part of our Investing for Impact report, looking at how MRC- funded research delivers impact. More can be found in the Investing for Impact section of our website.

In 2015, the newly formed MRC Immunopsychiatry Consortium, led by Professor Ed Bullmore (pictured) at the University of Cambridge (and GlaxoSmithKline, GSK) approached this problem from a unique angle. Bringing together a team of researchers with a wide range of expertise and industry collaborators (GSK and Janssen), the Consortium investigated the links between depression and inflammation. Depression has a known link to inflammation because depressive symptoms are associated with nearly all chronic inflammatory or autoimmune diseases. In addition, obesity which is linked to an increase in inflammatory molecules, is also linked to mood disorders.

Psychiatric disorders are common, potentially severe, and often not very well-treated. For example, about a third of patients with major depression are resistant to treatment with existing drugs. The number of patients affected is very large, and the personal, social, and economic costs entailed are extremely significant. Therefore we urgently need new treatments to tackle this growing problem.

Prof Ed Bullmore

In a key outcome of this Consortium, the academic and pharmaceutical companies produced pre-competitive data which provided some of the rationale for a new Phase II clinical trial, sponsored by Janssen. This trial will investigate whether an anti-inflammatory drug (an anti-IL6 antibody) could be used to treat depression.  Janssen’s clinical study was informed, in part, by the Consortium’s re-analysis of existing data (e.g., mood symptom changes in immunology drug trials) and the generation of new data to confirm a link between inflammation and depression. 

Drug development in psychiatry is notoriously difficult since we have very little data on quantitative, mechanistic biomarkers of these disorders. By refocusing on the immune system (instead of the nervous system) as the target tissue for treatment of mental health symptoms, there is an exciting opportunity to develop new, more effective treatments for mental health disorders.

Although it is still early days, the MRC Immunopsychiatry Consortium has already helped one of the  industrial collaborators, Janssen, build the case for a new Phase II clinical trial looking at a human monoclonal antibody called sirukumab that was originally designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The Janssen team is hoping to see whether this drug would be effective at treating depression in inflamed patients who haven’t responded optimally to conventional antidepressant treatment. “This was a true collaboration between industry and academia and makes fruitful use of existing and new data sources” said Dr Wayne Drevets, Head of Mood Disorders at Janssen.

Award details: MR/L014815/1


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Mental Health
  • Locations: Cambridge
  • Type: Impact story, Success story