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On 12 January 2016, the Department gathered, with special keynote speakers to discuss: 'Therapeutic discovery in neuropsychiatry'. Professor John Geddes and Professor Catherine Harmer hosted the event on a sunny, winter's day in the Richard Doll building, Oxford - introducing speakers to a full auditorium. 'Collaboration', 'big data', and 'knowledge-sharing' were outlined as essential for making progress in what is still 'one of the greatest unmet medical needs'.

Professor Catherine Harmer
Professor Catherine Harmer


Sir John Bell – Regis Professor of Medicine – the challenge and the Oxford response

How do we drive drug treatment?

Biggest challenges:

  • Major medical unmet need
  • Paucity of new therapies
  • Much of pharma has exited
  • Disease definition is not clear
  • Academic community is isolated
  • Field is a prisoner of past successes

Neuropsychiatry is emerging as one of the greatest unmet medical needs.

The ability to define diseases more precisely is crucial.

John Bell

It’s time to move on; to think more broadly about targets; genetics is powerful and starting to yield good results; digital data is important.

There has been progress in genetics, inflammation, metabolism, cardiovascular – and interaction between departments and scientists.

Some psychological treatments have really worked well. There are exciting possibilities of combining psychological therapies with pharmaceutical treatments.


Oxford has expertise across many disciplines and platforms - it is leading Drug Discovery in the UK.

We need:

  • New tools – better chemistry
  • Psychological treatments
  • Combination therapy
  • Cell or gene therapy

 How do you develop a project that brings all these into play?

Professor Chas Bountra – Molecular and cellular platforms

The biggest challenge is: coming up with new targets.

Need to think about targets and pathways.

Environmental factors e.g. stress and childhood have huge effect on the development and maintenance of these diseases.

Taking high priority genes for neuropsychiatry and working with academics and industry to:

  • Purify human protein
  • Work out 3D modelling of gene
  • Develop target-enabling packages
  • See how environment effects genes
Chas Bountra

All the data we discover and accumulate, we share with the world for free. I believe that when something is difficult and high-risk – like psychiatry – we have to be open.



Impact of open research: We published 1 molecule in Nature and showed it worked in a rare cancer. We made that molecule freely available – it was given to 1000 labs, and resulted in 300 publications, and accelerated science and drug discovery.




Professor John Gallacher – Dementia Platform UK and potential opportunities for extension

  • Goal of increasing knowledge and giving it away – a culture shock which must happen
  • Creating an ecosystem so we can do these experiments more rapidly
  • Highly targeted trials
  • Data will be public provenance
  • Beauty of the UK is that we’re small enough to get our act together, link up and want to make it work
John Gallacher

A culture-change of research being patient-led is the biggest difference I would like to see. If we can have a more integrated approach we'll see faster results.

Professor Ilina Singh – Ethics and Society

Exploring the implications of neuroscience for human self-understanding, ethics and policy.


Ilina Singh

It is important to look at environmental factors and try to respond to those - person-focused, not brain focused. 


Thinking about population health and early intervention / prevention; working up Ethics of Big Data in Mental Health; trying to build a theory of brain flourishing 0-3.



Aiming to build mental health PPI strategy.

  • Recruiting to a Patients and Research group
  • Working to establish ethical framework for PPI

When is it not good to do PPI?

When is it not good to data-share?


Professor Gill McVean – Director of the Big Data Institute

Gil McVean

As we go through our lives, we leave behind a huge amount of biomedical data. How can this be used to transform healthcare?


Global biobanks: The collection, integration and analysis of large-scale and often distributed datasets will be an essential component of future biomedical research.





What is Big Data?

  • Large – distributed and cloud computing
  • Requires new statistical and computational methods to analyse
  • Can’t store in standard database structures
  • Hard to summarise or visualise

Professor Elizabeth Tunbridge – The most important platform of all [staff / people]


Liz Tunbridge

  • Collaboration key strength of Oxford
  • Attracting and training the best
  • Oxford trains more future psychiatrists than any other medical school in the country.
  • Psychiatry is the most popular Year 5 course.
  • A large part of our work is in facilitating staff development.
  • Wants to see a culture where development of one’s role is fundamental, not an add-on.
  • Ambition to develop Warneford to be the ‘home’ for translational clinical neuroscience.
  • Want to develop live streaming / podcast talks to reach wide audiences.   
  • Encourage fluid movement of researchers within and between institutions.
  • Next generation of scientists need to be skilled to work fluidly.

Professor Simon Lovestone


Simon Lovestone


It’s very unusual that the US sees something happening in Europe and is so impressed that it creates a law to try to ensure it also has it.



Instrumental in changing US Law – ‘The 21st Century Cures Act’ – recognising that medicine is in crisis.





There is nowhere that rivals Oxford in drug discovery.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants [Chas Bountra].

  • I want to speed the process and use an informatics-driven approach to identify compounds.
  • I’d like to be able to identify biomarkers from blood.
  • We think we might be sitting on a target and a biomarker.
  • We’ve stung our cousins across the pond into action.
  • G-PAD – Global Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease – extraordinary how quickly this has happened.

Informatics is the future.

Professor Clare Mackay

Ambition to create a ‘Brain Health Centre’:

  • Memory clinic referrals
  • GP referrals
  • Public walk-in
Clare Mackay

Attendees would have a brain health assessment; a report would be generated; patients would be asked for their consent for their data to be used and then for them to be re-contacted – creating a cohort of convenience and data which would be available for analysis.

Offer a pick ‘n’ mix menu of tools.


Professor John Geddes

John Geddes

One of the challenges people have is our own scientific language. We’re beginning to be patient with each other and break-down differences.

There’s an important part where clinical insights are linked to genetic discoveries and drug discoveries.

There’s a real barrier to taking our discoveries into the NHS.

It’s about how we get it all linked up.

Poster Competition
There were two winners in the Department's poster competition, which was judged by Professors Trevor Young and David Miklowitz - Liliana Capitao and Anya Topiwala. Congratulations to both.
Photo Comp 2 Photo Comp 1

Photographs by Nicholas Irving of Oxford Neuroscience


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