The perilous state of neuropsychopharmacology

Lack of basic brain research and drug development failures have led to the withdrawal of pharmaceutical funding into mental health research. Who will pick up the slack?
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

Long word… little backing.

Drug companies are abandoning research into mental illnesses, and other funding providers are not picking up the slack. Nature News reports.

A new report produced for the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) warns that “research in new treatments for disorders is under threat.”

And with current treatments being inadequate for many patients, the “withdrawal of research resources is a withdrawal of hope for patients and their families.”

Many (former) big players in neuroscience are cutting research funding as the pharmaceutical industry undergoes massive restructuring. And in particular, researchers trying to hit targets in the brain are the hardest hit.

It can take much longer to develop therapies for psychiatric disorders than for better-understood conditions like cancer. Accordingly, potential drugs for psychiatric conditions have higher failure rates – with some disappointments becoming apparent only late in the development process.

In other words, neuroscience is an expensive and risky prospect for industry.

These are dark days for brain science,” says report coauthor David Nutt of Imperial College London.

Some more indications:

Part, or much, of the problem comes from a failure to develop the underlying science, according to Leiden University Medical Centre’s Joop van Gerven and Adam Cohen, who cowrote a British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology editorial about the vanishing field of clinical psychopharmacology. Depression, for example, is a complex disease – yet to assess whether drugs work, researchers have to rely on crude or imprecise tools like questionnaires.

Here’re some forward-facing suggestions:

  • Developing new ways of assessing brain function and disease will reduce the risks in developing new drugs.
  • Patents could be longer-lived for drugs that take longer to develop – such as those for brain disorders – to encourage companies to work in the area.
  • Academia could develop more creative relationships with industry to fill the drug development gap. The ECNP is pushing the idea of a medicines chest: companies can assign compounds they’re no longer actively developing to be taken forward by researchers in academia or elsewhere.

A warning: if the current research base is allowed to evaporate, it will be decades before it can be built up to start again.

The report [pdf] was published in European Neuropsychopharmacology.

Via Nature News.

Image of brain by jkt_de from morgueFile

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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