Neurology Central

Challenges in mental health: biomarkers and personalized medicine (Part 1)

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As part of #NCMentalHealthMonth, we recently sat down with Expert Panel member Gabriel Vargas (Amgen, San Francisco, CA, USA) to discuss the current status of biomarker development and personalized treatment for psychiatric disorders. Gabriel has previously held posts at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF; CA, USA) and Roche (CA, USA and Switzerland), and is now Executive Medical Director and Neuroscience Therapeutic Area Head, Early Development at Amgen in San Francisco. His research at UCSF centered around membrane trafficking of GPCRs, in particular dopamine receptors, as well as clinical work with the schizophrenia patient population and the creation of a prodromal schizophrenia research clinic. At Roche, Gabriel was Head of the biomarker group, working on biomarkers for a variety of psychiatric disorders.
Since joining Amgen, Gabriel has been working on the early development of neuroscience compounds, mainly focused on migraine, neurodegenerative and pain disorders. His group is also interested in mobile health approaches to drug development and clinical models.
View Part 2 of this interview here.

How far have we come in the search for biomarkers for psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia?

I think that it’s a really hard field – it’s been very challenging. I don’t think we’ve been very successful with it in general. There are a number of biomarker approaches – including proteomic, genetic, genomic biomarkers etc. – and there have been several groups who have looked at each of these. For example, the laboratory of Sabine Bahn (University of Cambridge, UK) is probably one of the main groups that has devoted a lot of time to fluid biomarkers for the diagnosis of schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders, with a focus mainly on proteomic biomarkers. They first started with CSF biomarkers, in which they identified a means of distinguishing between healthy controls and schizophrenic patients. This was translated successfully into blood; however, the technique required a number of different proteomic signatures in the blood and while it was able to distinguish patients with schizophrenia from controls, it was not so useful in discriminating between different psychiatric diagnoses, thus it has not been generally applied in clinical settings. That being said, this test was a step forward from the standard clinical psychiatric diagnostic process and its ability to detect a psychiatric diagnosis implies that these disorders are not just limited to the brain, which is an important take-home message.

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