Time to re-engage psychiatric drug discovery by strengthening confidence in preclinical psychopharmacology

Mark Tricklebank*, Trevor W. Robbins, Camilla Simmons, Erik H.F. Wong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There is urgent need for new medications for psychiatric disorders. Mental illness is expected to become the leading cause of disability worldwide by 2030. Yet, the last two decades have seen the pharmaceutical industry withdraw from psychiatric drug discovery after costly late-stage trial failures in which clinical efficacy predicted pre-clinically has not materialised, leading to a crisis in confidence in preclinical psychopharmacology. Methods: Based on a review of the relevant literature, we formulated some principles for improving investment in translational neuroscience aimed at psychiatric drug discovery. Results: We propose the following 8 principles that could be used, in various combinations, to enhance CNS drug discovery: (1) consider incorporating the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) approach; (2) engage the power of translational and systems neuroscience approaches; (3) use disease-relevant experimental perturbations; (4) identify molecular targets via genomic analysis and patient-derived pluripotent stem cells; (5) embrace holistic neuroscience: a partnership with psychoneuroimmunology; (6) use translational measures of neuronal activation; (7) validate the reproducibility of findings by independent collaboration; and (8) learn and reflect. We provide recent examples of promising animal-to-human translation of drug discovery projects and highlight some that present re-purposing opportunities. Conclusions: We hope that this review will re-awaken the pharma industry and mental health advocates to the opportunities for improving psychiatric pharmacotherapy and so restore confidence and justify re-investment in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1417-1436
Number of pages20
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • New medications
  • Psychiatric disorder
  • Psychiatric drug discovery
  • Systems neurosciencese


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