17 March 2021
The Government is launching a $15 million competitive grant round to kick start Australian clinical trials exploring the use of potential breakthrough combination therapies for the treatment of debilitating mental illnesses.
It is estimated four million Australians experience a mental health disorder ever year, and almost half of all Australians will be affected at some point in their lifetime. The most prevalent mental illnesses are anxiety disorders – affecting more than 14 per cent of adults each year – depression and substance abuse disorders. Evidence also suggests that up to 12 per cent of Australians experience PTSD during their lifetime
Many of the standard treatments for these illnesses can have varied efficacy and recovery rates, and there have been few advances in novel pharmaceutical discoveries in recent years.
However, there is now a strong and emerging body of international evidence that shows that substances such as ketamine, psilocybin, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), when used in a controlled environment and supported by psychological/ psychiatric care, offer a promising new approach to effectively treating pernicious mental illnesses that are resistant to first-line treatments.
Several have been granted ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Government’s $15 million Innovative Therapies for Mental Illness Grant Opportunity under the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) will accelerate global efforts by supporting Australian-led research into the use of these approaches to combat resistant illnesses such as PTSD, major depressive disorder, addiction disorders and eating disorders that are impacting the lives of so many Australians.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said the Government’s MRFF is helping ensure that Australia’s medical research sector remains at the forefront of global innovation.
“The early results of trials in Australia and internationally are extremely encouraging, but more research is desperately needed before these approaches can be used by psychiatrists outside of controlled clinical trials. It is vital that we continue to support the search for new and better treatments for mental illness.”
“This grant opportunity will boost local research into potentially life-saving therapies and offers hope all those suffering from mental illness, including our Veterans and emergency service personnel dealing with the devastating effects of PTSD,” Minister Hunt said.
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental health and Suicide Prevention, David Coleman, said mental health and suicide prevention is one of our Government’s highest priorities.
“The prevalence and impact of mental illness is devastating for individuals, families and communities. This bold initiative is about ensuring that we explore every avenue of potential treatment for Australians diagnosed with a mental illness,” Assistant Minister Coleman said.
The MRFF is a long-term, sustainable investment in Australian health and medical research helping to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to the sustainability of the health system. It is also a capital preserved fund, which matured at $20 billion in July 2020.
Through the MRFF, the Australian Government has committed $614 million to support and encourage clinical trials.
Funding for the 2021 Innovative Therapies for Mental Illness Grant Opportunity will be over three years from 2021–22, with project activity up to five years.
Applications for grants for Australian clinical trials to assess innovative therapeutics, including ketamine, psilocybin, and MDMA, supported by psychological/ psychiatric care, are now open via GrantConnect (www.grants.gov.au) and close on 21 July 2021.
Further details are available on the Department of Health website.