London-based biotech Autifony has signed a £2.75m ($4.25m) collaboration deal with the universities of Newcastle and Manchester to develop treatments for schizophrenia. The bulk of the funding comes from a £1.9m award made to Autifony and the universities by UK innovation agency the Technology Strategy Board. As part of the collaboration, Autifony will provide its Kv3 potassium channel modulators which the firm currently uses in the treatment of hearing loss and tinnitus, which will be re-developed to treat schizophrenia. The psychiatric illness has seen diminishing investment in recent years, despite remaining a huge social and economic burden with poor quality treatments that create considerable side effects in patients. Autifony was spun-out from pharmaceutical conglomerate GlaxoSmithKline in 2011, which retains an equity stake in the firm. That year, the company raised £10m ($15m) in a venture round which saw equal investments from venture firm SV Life Sciences and Imperial College London’s tech transfer unit Imperial Innovations, which holds a 33.6% stake in the business. The company also works in collaboration with University College London’s (UCL) Ear Institute on its hearing treatments. UCL was a founding shareholder in the firm. Dr Charles Large, chief scientific officer of Autifony, said: “The opportunity provided by this grant to work on a new approach to schizophrenia, for which novel and more effective treatments are urgently needed, is hugely exciting. The ion channels that we are targeting in our hearing loss programme are closely implicated in brain circuits which are believed to be dysfunctional in schizophrenia. Working with academic collaborators renowned in their respective fields will bring the latest techniques and thinking to bear on this important health challenge.”

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