J&J, Lundbeck spearhead an R&D consortium focused on depression, neurodegeneration

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Lundbeck are throwing some scientific muscle behind a new initiative at the Wellcome Trust which enlisted researchers at 7 top academic research institutions in an effort to determine what role the immune system and inflammation play in depression and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

The 7 U.K. institutions are Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow, King's College London, Oxford, Southampton and Sussex. J&J's newly created innovation center in London helped facilitate the project, which is going after some of the toughest targets in drug research.

Alzheimer's in particular has proven a tough nut to crack; a string of recent failures litters the field of depression as well. In the first stage of the game, researchers will start to probe the immune systems of patients who don't respond to standard therapies. Animal models will be used in preclinical research to establish a link between the immune markers they find and individuals' behavior. And the next stage will include proof-of-concept studies intended to repurpose anti-inflammatories for patients based on their immunological profile.

The Wellcome Trust will bankroll the work with close to $8 million which will be parceled out in milestones; J&J and Lundbeck will both add to the bankroll. The academic partners, meanwhile, "will contribute expertise in neuroimaging, clinical phenotyping and trials, animal models, and informatics."

Professor Ed Bullmore

"This is an area of enormous public health importance--depression is the single biggest cause of disability in working age adults and Alzheimer's disease is the main cause of the growing numbers of patients with dementia in our ageing population," noted Professor Ed Bullmore from the University of Cambridge. "However, finding new medicines for these disorders has proven to be very difficult in the last few decades. Our consortium will be taking a radically innovative approach, focusing on drug targets in the immune system rather than the nervous system. We have an excellent team of academic and industry experts assembled to address the challenges and we look forward to getting started in the New Year."

- here's the release