Welwyn Garden City firm's breakthrough in battle against stress and depression

PUBLISHED: 15:00 27 July 2013

Gwyndaf Evans, Diamond Scientist, with Kaspar Hollenstein and Andy Dore from Heptares carrying out experiments.

Gwyndaf Evans, Diamond Scientist, with Kaspar Hollenstein and Andy Dore from Heptares carrying out experiments.

© Diamond Light Source

A MAJOR discovery in the fight against stress and depression has been made by a Welwyn Garden City company.

Newly discovered structure of the protein receptor in the brain that controls our response to stress, including the drug pocket where small molecule drugs (such as the one shown in white, red and blue) can be designed to fit.Newly discovered structure of the protein receptor in the brain that controls our response to stress, including the drug pocket where small molecule drugs (such as the one shown in white, red and blue) can be designed to fit.

Scientists say work by Heptares Therapeutics, based in the BioPark in Broadwater Road, will have a huge impact on future treatments.

The company has, for the first time, been able to identify the structure of CRF1 – the protein receptor in the brain which controls our response to stress.

Their results were published last week in the esteemed journal Nature.

The discovery will help scientists develop improved treatments for depression and anxiety.

Close up of newly discovered structure of the protein receptor in the brain that controls our response to stress and the drug pocket where small molecule drugs (such as the one shown in turquoise) can be designed to fit.Close up of newly discovered structure of the protein receptor in the brain that controls our response to stress and the drug pocket where small molecule drugs (such as the one shown in turquoise) can be designed to fit.

Scientists now have a template that can be used to accelerate research into other protein receptors in the same ‘family’ – including those that can be targeted to treat Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Stress-related diseases such as depression and anxiety are now commonplace.

Figures show one-in-four people experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.

And more than 105 million work days are lost to stress each year, costing UK employers £1.2bn.

Boffins at the drugs firm have developed an innovative technique which involves blocking the receptors responsible for the symptoms at microscopic level.

Fiona Marshall, chief scientific officer at Heptares, said: “Publishing this research in Nature will get this family of protein receptors on the radar of the drug discovery and development industry and help facilitate the design of some important new drug treatments.”

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