The first new class of drugs in more than a decade for treating schizophrenia worked at least as well in a clinical trial as standard medications, a study released on Sunday showed.
Unlike current anti-psychotic drugs, which block the uptake of a naturally occurring chemical called dopamine, the new drug acts on a different neurotransmitter, glutamate.
The new treatment also reduced certain undesirable side-effects, according to the study, published in the British journal Nature Science.
Imbalances in the brain of these chemicals are largely responsible for schizophrenia's disabling symptoms, which range from hallucinations and delusions to a severely impaired ability to express emotion. Environmental factors are thought to play a role too.
Until now, the only drugs able to keep the most severe symptoms in check without debilitating side-effects acted on dopamine receptors.
Dopamine is the chemical messenger in the brain mainly involved with thinking, emotions, behaviour and perception.
In a double blind clinical trial, a team led by Sandeep Patil, a researcher at Eli Lilly, which funded the study, administered the new drug -- known as LY2140023 -- to 97 patients alongside smaller groups given placebos or olanzipine, a commonly prescribed anti-psychotic medication.
LY2140023 matched the effectiveness of olanzipine for both "positive" symptoms such as hallucinations as well as "negative" ones, including withdrawal.
As important, it avoided some of the adverse effects associated with dopamine-targeting drugs: weight gain, increases in blood fat called triglycerides, periodontitis, and inflammation of the gums.