Italian Researchers Study Drug Resistance in Psychiatry

Univadis Italy

October 31, 2022

Having secured 11 million euros in funding from the European Union's Horizon Health program, a team of pharmacology, pharmacogenetics, and psychiatry experts has set to work in hopes of helping patients with severe mental illnesses. Their study, Psych-STRATA, seeks to identify biological and clinical markers that predict resistance to pharmacologic treatments, as well as those that predict response to possible alternative therapeutic options.

On this team is a group of researchers from the University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy. They are part of a network of international experts from 26 universities, research centers, and European associations, all of whom have vast experience in the fields of psychiatry, pharmacology, genetics, and statistics. Coordinating the project is Bernhard T. Baune, MD, PhD, MPH, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Münster, Münster, Germany.

The problem of drug resistance is of great relevance to psychiatrists. About one third of patients do not respond to pharmacologic therapies; as a result, their illness becomes more and more severe. This development has a major impact on these patients' quality of life. In addition, healthcare and social services face a rise in the costs associated with managing the illnesses.

In the University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy, group has two members from the Department of Biomedical Sciences — Alessio Squassina, PhD, head of the Pharmacogenetics Laboratory, and Claudia Pisanu, MD, PhD — and two translational clinical researchers from the Department of Medical Sciences and Public Health — Bernardo Carpiniello, MD, head of the Psychiatry Division, and Mirko Manchia, MD, PhD. They will be in charge of recruiting and collecting biological material from one set of patients with mental illnesses, collecting DNA and performing genetic screenings for all of the patients recruited by the network's members in the various European countries, and conducting and coordinating clinical trials in which the pharmacologic therapies will be guided based on the molecular results.

"The process of figuring out whether someone has drug resistance is complex," explained Squassina. "It may require very long periods of treatment and observation which, in the end, severely impact the patient's chances of seeing a significant improvement in their symptoms and of being able to reintegrate themselves into society in the shortest possible timeframe." The goal of the Psych-STRATA project is to come up with a predictive algorithm — consisting of molecular markers and clinical data — that, before a specific antidepressant is even given, will be able to identify the patients who have a greater probability of responding and those who have a greater probability of not responding. Psych-STRATA's findings could really have a meaningful positive effect on the lives of patients with mental illnesses, as they would provide psychiatrists with guidance for managing pharmacologic therapies more precisely and in a way that is based on patients' biological characteristics. This, in turn, would increase the efficacy, lower the risks of adverse effects, and significantly contribute to achieving quick remission.

This article was translated from Univadis Italy.


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