Feature May 24, 2021

The Hunt for a New Weapon Against Schizophrenia

Finding a biomarker for schizophrenia could change the way we treat the disease as we may be able to deliver the right medication to the right patient much faster than today. It’s estimated that approximately 20 million people around the world suffer from schizophrenia (1).

Identifying a biomarker for schizophrenia could be key to get a better understanding of the disease and finding ways to target new therapies, that might have a preventive effect on patients at high risk of developing schizophrenia.

 

The big challenge is, that it’s extremely difficult to find biomarkers for schizophrenia compared to other types of diseases outside the brain.

With diseases outside the brain, we can often take tissue directly from the site of the disease, which can make it easier to develop biomarkers. Imagine a car mechanic, able to fix a problem by going directly to the engine, the source of the problem, and taking direct measurements, or replacing components. In brain diseases, we’re typically not able to access the ‘engine’ or replace components – our mechanic is limited to listening to the sounds of the rhythms the engine makes and trying to diagnose the problem, without being able to look at the engine itself. Garry Honey, Senior Director, Translational Biomarkers and Imaging, Lundbeck

According to Garry Honey, we find ourselves looking at the most complicated engine ever devised. Around the world, Lundbeck is respected for confronting the challenge of working with extremely complicated diseases like schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

 

Although we haven’t been able to identify a biomarker or a set of biomarkers for schizophrenia yet, there is no reason to believe, that we won’t find biomarkers for schizophrenia and other psychiatric diseases within the next ten years.

 

“I believe that this will happen, due to the convergence of several developments. We have made enormous strides in understanding brain function and have incredible tools at our disposal that are now maturing and generating new, meaningful insights,” says Garry Honey.

 

Garry Honey confidently believes, that the technical progression combined with three significant developments will pave the way for innovation within biomarkers in schizophrenia and other brain diseases:

 

  • The combined effort of the scientific community to develop large databases, such that small studies that can give inconsistent findings can be avoided, and hypotheses can be based on data from thousands of subjects, where these tools have been used to gather data.
  • The ability to utilize the intelligent devices all around us: the smartphones, the tablets, the smartwatches, the internet-aware devices in our homes, that can collect continuous streams of data, that mean our measurements in clinical trials are no longer brief snapshots in time, but truly reflective of our real-world experience.
  • The rapid expansion in the use of artificial intelligence is leading to new insights, where we can benefit from machine learning to recognise patterns in these new, large bodies of data, that would be difficult to discern by humans.

This potent combination, of large amounts of data, from connected, continuous, intelligent devices, with the analytical tools to leverage it, is opening a huge potential in our understanding of the brain, and the problems that occur when misfiring brain regions result in devastating illnesses like schizophrenia.

Video: Watch Garry’s colleague, Bruce Kinon, VP Specialist, US Psychiatry, elaborate on the potential of biomarkers below and learn more about the future of biomarkers in schizophrenia

(1) World Health Organization. Schizophrenia fact sheet. 2019. Available at https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/schizophrenia. Accessed May 2021.