Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Canada and J&J Innovation units have launched an open-source research collaboration with the University of Toronto’s Centre for Collaborative Drug Research (CCDR), with the goal of developing new therapeutic approaches to Alzheimer’s disease and mood disorders. The value of the collaboration was not disclosed.

The collaboration—dubbed Neuroscience Catalyst—is intended to identify medical and scientific opportunities in early-stage development of new brain-disorder drugs that can be advanced to clinical phases.

Participating researchers will have access to compound libraries and other R&D resources of Janssen and J&J Innovation, formed to catalyze R&D collaborations between regional innovators and J&J.

The University of Toronto agreed to co-fund the research, and create a process for soliciting and evaluating proposals from researchers—including those based at other academic hospitals and research institutions—as well as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, which is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto and has facilities across Ontario province.

“As its name suggests, this collaboration will be a catalyst for the discovery of new therapeutics targeted at mental health and neurodegenerative disorders,” said Professor Ruth Ross, Ph.D., CCDR’s director. She is also a senior scientist at CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, and chair of the university’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Partners in Neuroscience Catalyst say their collaboration will offer researchers business know-how and guidance on the drug discovery and development process that is lacking in many other academic-industry collaborations.

The partners hope that knowledge can overcome what has been the dismal track record of biopharmas and others in developing drugs for Alzheimer’s.  According to a study published July 3 in the journal Alzheimer's Research & Therapy, the failure rate for Alzheimer’s disease drug candidates studied in clinical trials between 2002 and 2012 was 99.6%. A total 413 Alzheimer’s trials were performed during the period, according to data cited by the study.

Very few new drugs have been approved with Alzheimer’s indications in recent years. One exception is GE Healthcare’s Vizamyl® (flutemetamol [18F]), approved by the FDA last year for visual detection of amyloid-beta neuritic plaques in the brains of patients with the disease. Vizamyl has also won European Commission approval, the company said September 1.

Vizamyl is the second diagnostic drug available in the U.S. for visualizing beta amyloid on a PET scan of the brain; the first is Amyvid (Florbetapir F 18 injection), approved in 2012. However, neither drug is indicated for predicting the development of Alzheimer’s or checking how patients might respond to treatment for the disease.

Neuroscience is among six therapeutic areas for which Janssen aims to address unmet medical needs. The other five are oncology, immunology, infectious diseases and vaccines, and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

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