How Biologics May Serve as an Effective Form of Mental Illness Treatment for Schizophrenia

Biologics Discovery

mental illness treatment for Schizophrenia
Now that researchers have uncovered the underlying cause of schizophrenia, is an effective mental illness treatment soon to follow?
Image source: Flickr CC user A Health Blog

While complaints have been leveled against the amount of time it’s taken to develop effective mental health therapies, the brain is one of the most intricate organs in the human body. Mental health professionals often rely upon a combination of prescription drugs and behavioral therapies to help patients—so is it truly a surprise that finding a surefire mental illness treatment has been elusive?

Despite past difficulties, recent advances in the life sciences field have begun to close the gap between possibility and reality. From finding implications for psychiatric disorders to developing mechanisms to address specific conditions, today’s companies are able to design new and better therapies—many of which are biologics. In fact, because of a research breakthrough, schizophrenia may be the next disease to benefit from biotherapeutics.

Effective Mental Illness Treatment Has Eluded Schizophrenia Due to Lack of Mechanistic Understanding

Like other types of mental illness, treating schizophrenia involves targeting the symptoms rather than the underlying cause. But unlike other mental disorders, schizophrenia is characterized by multiple symptoms, ranging from hallucinations to disordered motor behavior. When symptoms vary that widely, mental illness treatment options are limited. Studies are still being conducted to determine the efficacy of well-established drugs.1

Because of the myriad symptoms, pinpointing an underlying cause of schizophrenia has been even harder. The condition is virtually impossible to model in cells or animals, closing off that traditional path for discovery.2 Among the potential factors scientists have studied are genetic mutations, the immune system and the microbiome. But after collecting the genetic data of over 65,000 people, researchers now have a lead.

Complement component 4 (C4) is a gene that encodes a protein that marks pathogens for destruction by the immune system.3 C4 is also linked to synaptic pruning, a process during adolescence that eliminate excess synaptic connections to strengthen more commonly used neural pathways. In other words, the more C4 is expressed, the more synaptic pruning takes place. Patients with schizophrenia tend to have fewer synapses, an observation further supported by the disease usually manifesting in a patient’s late teens or early 20s, or the end of adolescence.

Development of Mental Illness Treatment Depends on Biologic Drug Discovery

The identification of a specific gene opens up a world of possibilities for mental illness treatment that didn’t exist previously. If excessive synaptic pruning is caused by C4 overexpression, limiting or outright blocking the gene’s expression during adolescence could prevent the development of schizophrenia. Armed with information about the gene, researchers can develop biotherapeutics to deactivate the gene or bind to the C4 protein to render it ineffective. To do so effectively, modeling and simulation tools that predict a potential biologic drug’s behavior and activity can be used to screen the candidates.

The identification of C4 was one major correlation gleaned from the large amount of data collected; perhaps there are more waiting to be discovered. Extracting useful insights from huge volumes of results is a crucial step in biologic drug discovery. In the case of schizophrenia, the patient data was obtained from over 30 countries. The resulting large data set allowed researchers to reach a conclusion in which they had the utmost confidence. Today’s global reality requires that life sciences firms be able to efficiently share information with colleagues and partners across international borders and time zones. By doing so, they can speed along the decision-making steps required during the discovery phases of biologic drug R&D.

Isolating C4 as an underlying cause of schizophrenia is only the first step in developing effective mental illness treatment. But where before researchers hadn’t yet pinpointed a mechanistic action contributing to the disease, knowledge of a genetic cause means that innovative biotherapeutics are now a possibility. Using the same methodology that led to the discovery of the C4 correlation, perhaps other researchers can uncover the underlying genetic causes of other mental disorders. Once life sciences organizations have that information, crucial mental illness treatment options can become far more effective.

BIOVIA offers an integrated digital solution for life sciences companies specializing in the discovery, development, and manufacturing of innovative biologic drugs. As part of that suite of processes is Biologics Discovery, a set of tools that helps organizations speed along the discovery phase of the R&D workflow by providing a platform through which collaborating researchers can share information with each other quickly and effectively. It also enables antibody design and optimization, ensuring both quality and safety of product. Is your organization interested in learning how digital tools can support your efforts to discover and develop much-needed biologic drugs? Please contact us today to learn more.

  1. “Study examines antipsychotics’ effects on QoL in schizophrenia,” June 13, 2016,
  2. “Scientists Have Finally Found a Biological Process Behind Schizophrenia,” January 27, 2016,
  3. “Scientists Discover Genetic, Biologic Cause of Schizophrenia,” January 27, 2016,