Australian researchers leading in the development of new mental health treatment

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Flinders University has announced its researchers are investigating how an antipsychotic drug currently in development could pave the way for even better treatments.

Schizophrenia is a highly complex mental health disorder affecting almost one per cent of the world’s population.

The university said SEP-363856 or ulotaront is an experimental antipsychotic currently undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of schizophrenia and related disorders. It said that, unlike many existing antipsychotic drugs, SEP-363856 is an agonist, stimulating certain receptors in the brain, rather than an antagonist that switches them off.

The group of Flinders University researchers, including Dr Pramod Nair, Professor John Miners, Professor Ross McKinnon and Professor Tarun Bastiampillai, have played a major role in discovering how the drug candidate is able to recognise and interact with its intended target site in the brain, a protein called trace amine-associated receptor (TAAR1).

The Flinders University team, along with researchers at Monash University and the University of Hong Kong, employed the supercomputing and data services facility at Canberra-based National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) to model what happened to the receptor when it was exposed to SEP-363856.

The research, which has been published in the Nature journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that the antipsychotic interacts with a unique set of residues that may play a prominent role in the selective binding of the drug to TAAR1 over other receptors.

“Understanding how drugs and drug-like molecules interact with drug targets at an atomic level allows us to predict their binding interactions and provides a guide to the rational design of new therapeutic agents,” said lead author Dr Pramod Nair from Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health.

“Using high-performance computing platforms allows us to rapidly predict such mechanisms, which would take several years if we were to do it in a lab.

“Understanding these processes in a short timeframe is valuable for developing effective therapeutics with reduced adverse reactions and a better scope towards personalised medicine.”