Mental health foundation funds campaign for new therapies for depression – Inside Philanthropy


Over the years, Inside Philanthropy’s focus on mental health grantmaking has been motivated in part by a growing understanding of the breadth of the toolkit available to the healthcare community when it comes to This is to help people with depression and other mood and psychiatric problems. With the exception of the introduction of SSRI drugs such as Prozac in the 1980s, the past five decades have produced little significant medical treatment. This leaves a huge unmet need for health care: only one mental health problem, depression, is among the leading causes of disability around the world.

Yet only a small fraction of public and private funding goes into research and development for the treatment of mental health problems. And some researchers argue that the real burden of mental health disorders is underestimated by more than a third.

The coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse. While estimates from previous years indicated that around 20 million Americans suffered from depression, experts now repeatedly say that number is struggling with depression, anxiety, and related issues.

As we reported previously, few major national and international funders made mental health a priority in their grants. As a result, researchers seeking private support for studies in the sciences related to mental health have leaned on smaller organizations led by founders and other donors with personal motivations. This is the case with the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF), an organization that we haven’t covered yet and that you probably haven’t heard of, yet describes itself as the largest non-profit organization. nationally funded, privately funded depression research.

HDRF was established in 2006 by Audrey Gruss, a former head of the beauty industry, who, along with her financial husband Martin Gruss, was already a well-known philanthropist in New York and elsewhere, supporting the arts and culture, research medical and education. But Audrey’s mother, Hope, had fought a long battle with depression, a difficult road that gave Audrey first-hand experience of the medical community’s limited capacity to help people with mental illness.

“I got pissed off and angry when I realized how underfunded, under-researched and misunderstood mental health is,” Gruss said. “I was surprised at the lack of treatments available for my mother. And at the time, most of the big pharmaceutical companies had given up on brain research, so there weren’t many new drugs in development either. Another thing that Gruss, the longtime high profile philanthropist, knew: “In my lifetime, no person or organization had ever asked me for a dime for mental health.

Shortly after Hope’s death, Gruss created HDRF to support research into the basic science of the brain and mind, and to accelerate the translation of this science into needed new treatments. Funding is guided by a seven-person scientific advisory committee, which includes Nobel laureates Eric Kandel and James Watson. According to its website, the foundation awarded 104 research grants to 48 institutions.

Their first phase of funding focused on the basic science of depression. The foundation’s scientific council has created a research roadmap involving the fields of genetics and epigenetics, molecular biology, electrophysiology and brain imaging. As part of the deal, HDRF-funded researchers are required to collaborate and share information, submitting their data and findings to the Hope Data Center at the University of Michigan.

HDRF recently announced a new grant award phase to provide funds to test real treatments for major depression and anxiety. Their new treatment initiative has pledged $ 30 million to fund five trials ready to be transferred to the clinic for pilot testing in humans at Mount Sinai, Johns Hopkins, University of California San Diego, USA. ‘University of Utah and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Several drugs will be studied.

“As a result of these first 14 years of research, we’ve learned a lot about depression and how the brain works at the molecular and cellular levels,” said Gruss. “So we developed the New Treatment Initiative to go beyond basic science and launch treatment research. “

Like other funders working in mental health, Gruss says she can’t wait to see more philanthropic support flowing into the research. She points out that in terms of total dollars, government support for mental health is also quite low compared to the burden these conditions place on individuals, families and society. But philanthropy can catalyze greater public funding.

“That’s why you need private and corporate funding, and funding from people to support a cause,” Gruss said. “There are very few single-cause funders in the area of ​​mental health and depression. We want to inspire other funders and individuals to create foundations for mental health.

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