1. Summary of your research (300 words max)
Mental health and neurological disorders account for more than a quarter of the total global burden of disease. Yet many pharmaceutical companies are exiting central nervous system drug discovery due to lower profitability compared to other areas. The onus is on academic researchers such as myself to help to fill this massive void.
My research is thus focused on discovering and developing novel treatments for serious brain disorders that lack effective treatments. In particular, I am exploring the potential of targeting the brain oxytocin system to treat addictions and social disorders, such as autism.
Using rodent models, my work provided the first demonstration that administering oxytocin powerfully inhibits alcohol consumption in both the short- and long-term and blocks alcohol’s ability to act at key addiction pathways in the brain. While conducting this work, I discovered that oxytocin not only reduced consumption of alcohol, but also blocked its acute intoxicating effects. I was able to link this effect of oxytocin to a blockade of alcohol’s ability to act at specific sites in the brain that are heavily involved in alcohol intoxication. I am currently involved in a phase II clinical trial that will hopefully take this potentially hugely important treatment closer to the clinic.
I am one of the lead inventors of a series of small molecules (SOC-X) that powerfully stimulate the brain oxytocin system, but that overcome the issues presented by using oxytocin itself as a treatment. Our lead molecule has striking pro-social and anti-addictive effects in rodent and non-human primate models of social disorders and addiction. Importantly, the molecule has effects greater than oxytocin in these tests and, unlike oxytocin, is able to be administered orally and readily enters into the brain. We are working hard towards launching the first human trial within the next 18 months.