Medicine

Covey named Taylor Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry

(Photo: Mark Beaven)

Douglas F. Covey, PhD, a leader in the development of a new class of drugs — neurosteroids — to treat mental illness, has been installed as the inaugural Andrew C. and Barbara B. Taylor Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The professorship was established through a gift from philanthropists Andrew and Barbara Taylor and the Crawford Taylor Foundation to support the Taylor Family Institute for Innovative Psychiatric Research, established in 2012 at the School of Medicine with an initial $20 million gift from the family. Researchers at the institute, including Covey, investigate the scientific underpinnings of psychiatric illnesses, with the goal of improving diagnosis and treatment.

Covey is a specialist in the chemistry and biology of steroids and has spent years synthesizing and developing neurosteroid molecules that soon may provide new tools for psychiatric treatment. He was installed by then-Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor.

“We are grateful for the generosity of Andy and Barbara Taylor and the Crawford Taylor Foundation,” said Wrighton, now chancellor emeritus. “This professorship is only one part of a substantial gift that is helping bolster and expand the work of Douglas Covey and the other scientists at the Taylor Family Institute as they work to develop more effective treatments for people with psychiatric illness.”

The institute supports research collaborations between several departments, including psychiatry, anesthesiology, developmental biology, radiology, neurology and medicine.

“Dr. Covey’s work isolating and synthesizing neurosteroids has great potential to help patients with psychiatric illness,” Perlmutter said. “We’re grateful for the Taylors’ generous investments in this professorship and in the Taylor Family Institute to support the work of researchers such as Doug Covey. The Taylors’ dedication enables scientists like Dr. Covey to focus attention on finding better treatments for the thousands of patients suffering from mental illness who do not benefit from current therapies.”

Covey studies how neurosteroids work as anesthetics and analgesics and has been analyzing their potential to treat neurodegeneration and psychiatric illnesses, particularly depression. His laboratory is developing methods to determine exactly how neurosteroid molecules bind to proteins on neurons and other cells in the central nervous system.

For more than two decades, one of Covey’s close collaborators has been Charles F. Zorumski, MD, the Samuel B. Guzé Professor, head of the Department of Psychiatry and director of the Taylor Family Institute.

“Doug has studied natural neurosteroids and developed scores of synthetic neurosteroid molecules, some of which have therapeutic potential,” Zorumski said. “Although existing medications help many psychiatric patients, current therapies don’t work for everyone. The compounds Doug is developing may help those who don’t benefit from current medications. His work actually helped spur the pharmaceutical company Sage Therapeutics to work with us at Washington University to discover, develop and test neurosteroids.”

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