Bionomics

An anti-anxiety drug without side effects

An industry-academic partnership between researchers at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and Bionomics Ltd has progressed the development of BNC210, a new drug designed to alleviate anxiety without the cognitive, sedative, motor and addictive side effects that reduce the utility of current anti-anxiety drugs. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of psychiatric illness, affecting approximately 60 million people in Europe alone.

The study required 24 drug-free, physically healthy participants who met the criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and were suitable for MRI scanning. Study participants were identified using anovel online personality questionnaire, which provided respondents with a detailed personality profile, a feature that attracted 7,000 students and staff from King’s College London to complete it. Participants with highly anxious personality profiles were automatically emailed to invite them to participate, generating 266 volunteers and allowing the team to recruit 24 suitable participants with ease.

The neuroimaging results of the study showed that BNC210 reduces activation in the brain’s emotion centre in response to viewing fearful faces. Importantly, BNC210 has shown greater potential for efficacy against anxiety than existing gold standard anti-anxiety medication (lorazepam).

Neuroimaging results were reinforced by behavioural findings obtained using a task which measured how much people avoid threats. This task was developed and validated by NIHR Maudsley BRC researchers. These results showed that BNC210 significantly reduced the intensity of threat avoidance behaviour, once again out-performing lorazepam.

This convergence of evidence from two different research methods is a powerful indicator of the potential for BNC210 to become a major new anti-anxiety treatment. BNC210 is currently being investigated in a phase 2 clinical trial which is recruiting patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The study team also intend to refine the personality-based recruitment method that was used for this study so that it can become an asset to the affective disorders research community as a whole.