AstraZeneca, the drug development partner for Targacept in a compound targeting schizophrenia, has advanced that candidate to a Phase IIb clinical trial.

The compound is known as AZD3480 and TC-1734. It targets cognitive deficits linked to schizophrenia, or CDS.

AstraZeneca made a $20 million milestone development payment to Targacept in January.

More than 8 million people suffer from schizophrenia worldwide, and of those 75 percent are cognitively impaired. There is no approved treatment for CDS.

The trial is being conducted in the U.S. and Canada and involves some 400 patients. It is expected to last through 2008.

The drug may also be useful in treating Alzheimer’s.

Targacept’s technology is based on research into neuronal nicotinic receptors.

"Research has shown that almost ninety percent of schizophrenics smoke," said J. Donald deBethizy, Targacept’s chief executive officer. “One explanation for this high rate of smoking is that schizophrenic patients may be self-medicating with nicotine in order to address the cognitive impairment associated with the disease and thus function better.

“However, unlike nicotine, which acts non-selectively throughout the central and peripheral nervous system and therefore has an undesirable side effect profile, AZD3480 was designed to target select neuronal nicotinic receptors that studies have shown to play a role in cognition to promote therapeutic effects and limit adverse side effects."

In a Phase IIb trial already conducted by Targacept, AZD3480 achieved “statistically significant results” in improving cognitive performance, according to Targacept.