BIO Panel Session, ‘Promising Advances in Neuroscience,’ Explores Challenges and Opportunities of Treating CNS and Mental Health Conditions

Events Translational Sciences UPMC Enterprises

The emerging field of neuropsychiatry is creating promising opportunities to address longstanding challenges with treating central nervous system (CNS) and mental health conditions.  

Advances in neuroscience, along with impressive strides in the field of precision psychiatry, are reshaping our understanding of brain disorders and mental health — offering tantalizing clues about how to better treat patients with these conditions.  

These exciting topics will be addressed by a panel session at the BIO International Convention 2024 led by Hank Safferstein, PhD, senior advisor to UPMC Enterprises. Safferstein, who also is CEO of Generian, a UPMC Enterprises portfolio company, will bring together perspectives and insights from neuroscience and psychiatry experts and early-stage biotechnology company leaders to explore the ongoing challenges, early breakthroughs, and opportunities for even greater progress in this field.  

Keep reading for details about the panel discussion, “Promising Advances in Neuroscience: New Molecular Targets and Biomarkers.” 

The expert panelists, who will discuss the significant challenges that neuropsychiatry is beginning to overcome, include:

Susanne Ahmari, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh

Amit Etkin, MD, Founder and CEO of Alto Neuroscience

Craig Thompson, CEO of Cerevance

Challenges include the difficulty in accessing the brain and CNS for detailed study, the complexity of mental illnesses, and the broad and sometimes imprecise diagnostic methods.  

Despite these challenges, the emergence of quantitative biomarkers, such as electroencephalogram (EEG), and multimodal strategies to delineate and treat disease, are encouraging. While biomarkers hold immense promise for personalized neuropsychiatry, from diagnosis to personalize treatments, further addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts from researchers, clinicians, and industry.  

Additionally, new molecular targets that address degeneration, inflammation, and other processes hold significant promise for patients. For example, researchers have identified potential targets for some neurodegenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. And the use of neuromodulation techniques, such as deep brain stimulation, have shown promise in reversing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.   

While there are still many challenges to overcome, this panel will showcase the progress being made in neuropsychiatry that is encouraging to researchers and may offer hope to patients with brain disorders and mental health conditions.  

Session Details 

“Promising Advances in Neuroscience: New Molecular Targets and Biomarkers” 

WHEN: Tuesday, June 4, 2024, 1:45-2:45 PM (PT) 

WHERE: San Diego Convention Center, Room 26A 

TRACK: Brain Health 

About the Speakers 

Hank Safferstein: Dr. Safferstein is a Senior Advisor to the Translational Sciences team at UPMC Enterprises, the innovation, commercialization, and venture capital arm of UPMC. He also is CEO of Generian, a UPMC Enterprises portfolio company that is building a first-in-class drug discovery pipeline of small molecule drugs to address the shortcomings of biologics and improve the patient experience by increasing convenience and access. Previously, he was Senior Vice President of Cognition Therapeutics, a clinical stage, small molecule, Alzheimer’s disease company and Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He was Founder and CEO of Cognition Therapeutics and Complexa, Inc., a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on fibrosis and inflammation for orphan disease indications. 

Susanne Ahmari: Dr. Ahmari’s research focuses on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and developing and applying cutting-edge technologies to uncover neural mechanisms that can be leveraged to develop new treatments for OCD. This work also may have additional potential for addressing compulsive behaviors in conditions such as autism, substance use disorders, and neurodegenerative disease. She is one of only a few individuals worldwide with demonstrated expertise and achievement in both clinical research and basic neuroscience, and her findings are an important component in the development of novel, effective treatments for OCD. 

In 2021, Dr. Ahmari was recruited to Wellcome Leap, where she leads Multi-Channel Psych. The $50 million program aims to develop an integrated model of anhedonic depression that captures both internal biological factors and externally-manifested, quantifiable measures. The program also seeks to reveal biological mechanisms of anhedonia by synchronizing investigations across genes, molecules, cells, animal models, and humans. 

Amit Etkin: Dr. Etkin founded Alto Neuroscience in 2019 and serves as President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chair of the Board of Directors. Prior to founding Alto, Dr. Etkin was a tenured Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, where he held multiple leading roles. During his more than a decade on faculty, Dr. Etkin ran a well-funded lab with over 30 students, post-doctoral researchers, and staff, and was jointly appointed at the Palo Alto Veteran Affairs hospital. Dr. Etkin has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles in leading basic science and clinical journals and ranks in the top 0.1% of researchers by citations worldwide.  

Alto Neuroscience is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company with a mission to redefine neuropsychiatric care by leveraging neurobiology to develop personalized and highly effective treatment options. Through the company’s AI-enabled biomarker platform, Alto combines rich sources of information on patients’ brain activity and behavior to better identify which patients are more likely to respond to Alto’s novel product candidates. The company’s clinical program is targeting major depressive disorder. 

Craig Thompson: Thomspon has more than 25 years of experience in biotech and the pharmaceutical industry. He has experience at Merck, Pfizer, and several biotech companies including Trius. Prior to joining Cerevance, he was President and CEO of Neurana Pharmaceuticals.

Cerevance is focused on the development of treatments for central nervous system disorders, with a focus on neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Using an extensive and growing collection of over 14,000 human brain tissue samples, Cerevance is generating an unprecedented catalog of the most promising targets for next generation treatments capable of transforming the lives of patients affected by CNS disorders.

A team of world leading scientists and drug developers are utilizing the company’s proprietary NETSseq platform and advanced machine learning techniques to identify previously undiscovered gene expression profiles in select cell types.

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