Published: 04-01-2024 12:28 | Updated: 08-01-2024 16:48

Sophie Erhardt receives KAW millions for the development of drugs against immune-induced cognitive decline and psychosis

Picture of Sophie Erhardt sitting at her desk in the office
Professor Sophie Erhadt Foto: Ulf Sirborn

Sophie Erhardt, professor in Experimental Psychiatry, KI, receives a 3 million SEK grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, for the development of drugs targeting immune-induced cognitive decline and psychosis. This funding marks a significant step in Professor Erhardt's pursuit of innovative solutions within the realm of mental health. The project stands among the ten distinguished Swedish scientific life science initiatives honored with grants.

The objective of Professor Erhardt's drug discovery project is to develop drugs preventing the synthesis kynurenic acid (KYNA). Elevated KYNA production in the brain is associated with cognitive dysfunction and psychotic symptoms in humans and for the last 15 years, many pharmaceutical companies have concentrated on developing KAT II inhibitors to lower the production. Indeed, previous studies have demonstrated that reducing KYNA production enhances cognition in animals. Our groundbreaking finding reveals that immune activation triggers another KAT enzyme. i.e. KAT III, leading to an increase in KYNA production in diseases like Covid-19, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, says Sophie Erhardt.

In collaboration with SciLifeLab, patentable KAT III-selective molecules ready for proof-of-concept studies (PoC) have been developed. This advancement signifies a promising step toward addressing cognitive dysfunction and psychosis through targeted drug development.

“Securing this grant represents a tremendous opportunity to propel our research forward swiftly, affirming that we are indeed on the right course. This recognition not only accelerates our momentum but also sends a strong message that our efforts are worthwhile. I am absolutely thrilled by this extraordinary affirmation of our work!”, says Sophie Erhardt, professor of experimental psychiatry at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Karolinska Institutet.

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation provided support to ten researchers at Swedish Universities. The common thread among the successful proposals in this inaugural funding round is their presentation of compelling opportunities and being at the appropriate stage of development for this specific call.

The Proof of Concept grant serves the purpose of bridging the transition from academic research to innovations in life science. This grant empowers researchers to advance their early-stage discoveries toward validated methods, products, or processes. It offers the chance to undertake activities that validate and expedite project development, paving the way for commercialization.

Beyond financial support, project leaders will benefit from ongoing coaching provided by the Wallenberg Launch Pad (WALP) team. This support aims to guide them in developing their innovations to achieve commercial maturity.


Sophie Erhardt, Karolinska Institutet receives 3.0 million SEK for the project: "Targeting KAT III: A novel treatment option for immune-induced cognitive impairment and psychosis”.

Read the press releas at KAW website