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October 14, 2012

Mental health drug development has come to a stand still, say experts

Leading experts claim the pharmaceutical industry has largely withdrawn from drug development for metal illnesses such as depression, ADHD and schizophrenia.

By Heidi Vella

Pills

Leading experts claim the pharmaceutical industry has largely withdrawn from drug development for metal illnesses such as depression, ADHD and schizophrenia.

The paper, published in the Science Translational Medicine, claims development of drugs for mental heath is at near standstill.

The papers are written by Dr Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health, and Steven Hyman of Harvard University.

"Despite high prevalence and unmet medical need, major pharmaceutical companies are deemphasising or exiting psychiatry, thus removing significant capacity from efforts to discover new medicines", the report states.

This is despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that approximately 350 million people worldwide have a mental health problem.

Also, a survey conducted in 17 countries by WHO found that on average about 1 in 20 people reported having an episode of depression in the previous year.

In one of the papers, Hyman said; "The central problem is clear: Neither vast unmet medical need, nor large and growing markets, nor concerted sales campaigns that attempt to recast ‘me-too drugs’ as innovative can illuminate a path across very difficult scientific terrain."

In June last year UK-based drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca announced they no longer intend to research new antidepressant drugs.

"Despite high prevalence and unmet medical need, major pharmaceutical companies are deemphasising or exiting psychiatry, thus removing significant capacity from efforts to discover new medicines."

The papers suggest a possible reason for a lack of drug development could be because the brain is less accessible to scientists for research, compared to other organs in the body.

Hyman and Insel also argue that dugs on the market do not necessarily work effectively but are simply marketed and sold well.

"Antipsychotics and antidepressants have been some of the most profitable agents for companies over the last two decades. But that doesn’t mean they’re effective. What it means is that they sell and they can be marketed," Insel told CBS news.

Many anti-psychotic drugs produce terrible side effects while patients taking anti-depressants often don’t feel the benefits until after six weeks and then the effects can be only moderate.

Mental health drug development is being left to public funding. The federal government in the US last budget included a $5m investment to create a national network for depression research and intervention.


Image: Drug development for treatment of mental health disorders has greatly reduced according to leading expert. Photo: Courtesy of Alaa Hamed.

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