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$2.7M to fund depression-related biomarker research


Toronto, ON – Pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Canada has made a donation of $2.7 million to support groundbreaking research at the University Health Network to identify biomarkers (biological markers) that will enhance the diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from major depression and bipolar disorder.

The donation will fund the establishment of the Canadian Depression Biomarker Network, a Canada-wide research study into the biomarkers of depression that will involve six academic centres across Canada, including the Ontario Cancer Biomarker Network, the University Health Network, McMaster University, Queen’s University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary.

The network will be headed by Dr Sidney Kennedy, psychiatrist-in-chief of University Health Network and professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

“We are dedicated to finding new treatments for devastating central nervous system disorders, including depression and schizophrenia and we believe in advancing the highest quality research,” said Marie Gagné, vice president, scientific affairs at Lundbeck Canada.

The future of treatment for mood disorders lies in personalized medicine through the identification of biomarkers, as well as the development of targeted therapies, which will require large-scale studies to accurately define subpopulations. The biomarker approach combines clinical data (including measures of anxiety, cognition, function/quality of life, life events, personality, and symptom severity) with molecular data providing measures of the function of genes and proteins in the body and brain scans (indicating the function of important mood-regulating brain circuits). Mathematical modelling techniques can be used to help identify clusters of biomarkers that indicate how a patient will respond to a treatment and make predictions about outcome.

“Research into depression has revealed many outstanding advances in the areas of brain function, molecular biology and genetics,” said Dr Kennedy. “However, so far this hasn’t been translated into advances in treatment. What we need is an integrated and unified approach that takes into account an individual’s unique genetic, environmental and biological makeup, creating a ‘personalized medicine’ approach.”

The Canadian Depression Biomarker Network will conduct a large-scale, Canada-wide research project in which detailed clinical, neuroimaging, genetic and molecular data will be collected from people with depression during a standardized, two-stage course of treatment. The research team will then identify those individuals whose symptoms remitted, and those who did not. Using informatics and mathematical modeling techniques, they can identify profiles of individuals and use this information to make personalized predictions about treatment response, to develop appropriate treatment algorithms and identify new therapeutic targets. Improved treatment will also be pre-emptive in stopping further damage that occurs with repeated depressive episodes. This represents a revolutionary approach to the treatment of depression.