Scientists are starting work today on a £4 million project to develop a new drug to treat schizophrenia.

The team at the University of Sussex are hoping to have a compound ready for clinical testing in just over three years.

The project, run by the the university’s Translational Drug Discovery Group, is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

About 1% of the population will suffer from schizophrenia at some point in their life.

The condition, which often affects people in their late teens and early twenties, has symptoms such as paranoia, hearing voices, problems with thought processes and an inability to function socially.

Current treatments are good at suppressing delusional episodes by blocking the brain’s dopamine receptors but they have little effect on the other symptoms.

These can make it hard for people with the condition to lead a “normal” life.

The Sussex team is taking a new approach by looking at another of the brain’s key chemicals, glutamate, which is associated with attention, memory and problem solving.

They hope to help the brain compensate for problems with the chemical and improve thought processes.

Lead scientist Simon Ward said: “Schizophrenia is often a devastating condition for the sufferers, their families and communities. The challenge is in designing a compound that will have just the right effect.”