AstraZeneca said today it launched a two-year research collaboration with the Lieber Institute for Brain Development (LIBD) to discover new drugs for neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia by applying genetics and stem cell biology.

The collaboration, whose value was not disclosed, is intended to define new approaches to treating diseases of the brain by combining AstraZeneca’s expertise in neuroscience drug discovery with LIBD’s expertise in human genomics, stem cell biology, and informatics.

AstraZeneca neuroscientists will work closely with LIBD researchers to identify and validate new drug targets and enhance approaches in patient segmentation to support new drug development.

The pharma giant’s researchers will have access to LIBD’s brain sample-based data set, which includes more than 1,000 postmortem brain samples, DNA samples, and brain imaging data from patients, family members, and control volunteers.

“Thanks to advances in stem cell biology and human genetics, we are seeing a real shift in neuroscience drug discovery where a deeper understanding of the causes of these disorders is opening up new drug targets and more personalized treatment that will ultimately benefit patients,” Michael Poole, head of AstraZeneca’s neuroscience innovative medicines and early development group, said in a statement.

AstraZeneca is the second giant drug developer to launch a collaboration with LIBD in less than six months. Back in July, UCB and the institute committed to joint research aimed at discovery of new drugs for treating patients suffering from cognitive impairment. The partners agreed to contribute chemical compounds, from which they plan to generate and develop new drug candidates.

LIBD houses a drug discovery division with investigators specializing in medicinal chemistry, assay development, and evaluation of lead compounds for their effects on biomarkers and within in vivo behavioral models.

LIBD is a not-for-profit Maryland medical research institution affiliated with The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and based on past collaborations between the NIH, select academic institutions, and the pharmaceutical industry. 

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