Monday, 19 March 2012

Big Pharma and neuroscience research


Please read the following commentary in last week's Nature: Schwab &Buchli. Drug research: Plug the real brain drain. Nature 2012;483:267-7.


Some extracts:

"... drug companies have withdrawn from neuroscience, more so than from any other disease area. Last year, Novartis closed its preclinical neuroscience research facility in Basel, Switzerland. Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca had already made similar moves. Merck and Sanofi are also cutting research on brain diseases."
"Until recently, industry funded nearly half the budget for research and drug development for brain disorders. Its retreat has left an abyssal hole."

"The reason for companies' reluctance to pursue drugs for neurological disorders is fairly straightforward: their investments haven't paid off. In the past 10–15 years, dozens of clinical trials for stroke neuroprotection — involving thousands of patients — have failed."

"To get drug development going again, we must tackle the problems that have stalled it in the past by building a culture of interdisciplinary exchange to generate promising compounds and setting aside public funds to conduct small, well-designed clinical studies of those compounds. We realize that in such a tight funding situation, every field is asking for more. But given the extraordinary burdens neurological diseases cause, they must become more of a priority."

"This is very bad news for the field of MS; no R&D means a shrinking pipeline. We rely on Big Pharma to deliver innovative new treatments."

4 comments:

  1. It's behind a paywall

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  2. I've been thinking a lot about this post. In some ways, I can't blame big pharma for backing out. When you're trying to make money by throwing darts at a dartboard blindfolded things often don't work out. Add to that the fact that even when you hit the dart board some of your customers start dying. I'm sure they get very nervous. Me? I'm thankful for my deadly drug. It's a reverse lottery but I feel a lot better.

    I have my own business and to bring some of my personal experience into this I've been reeling the past couple of days at a some of the things I had been doing. I asked myself, "How could I expect to made money doing that? What was I even thinking?" Those realizations are painful. They usually mean you have to change in ways you don't want to even though you'd much rather have what you had been doing just work, but you know it doesn't, and it's not ever going to.

    It's time for everyone in MS research, including big pharma, to take a step back. I know sometimes you guys (just like me in my business) get stuck on something you really want to get done and forget to ask, "Am I really working toward figuring out MS or just figuring out mouse biology? Am I paying attention to all of the evidence at my disposal for the most efficient route to disease understanding and effective treatment?"

    There's a lot of things in MS research that don't make sense to me. It feels like researchers ignore obvious things. For instance, why aren't more people trying to figure out in more detail why Tysabri is so effective relative to other drugs? I asked a while ago if there would be a more effective "Tysabri 2" and the answer you gave almost suggested that researchers had moved on --- past investigating one of the most prominent successes in MS treatment.

    Wait, what?

    I don't want this to be a rant, or a personal attack on you, you guys are great. (You're the best at blogging, so you get the feedback.) But I do feel there are a ton of missed opportunities in the MS research field right now. Some of that is unavoidable, and it's the default behavior of all large efforts. But if a researcher really wants to be someone who's remembered for actually curing a disease they need to step back every once in a while and say, "Wait, can I be doing something more effective with my time to really make progress on understanding this disease?"

    Thanks for listening. I apologize in advance for what I'm sure are my many misunderstandings of the MS research community.

    Matt

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  3. Re: ""Tysabri 2"

    I agree that Natalizumab is the most effective licensed therapy we have at the moment, but it come with problems. Stop the drug and MS comes back with a vengeance. And it comes with a health warning; PML. Two small molecules Natalizumab mimics have failed. But I agree we need to ask how it works and why it works so well. It stops trafficking of lymphocytes into the brain and spinal cord. It supports the autoimmune dogma very nicely.

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  4. Matt,
    Nice post!
    Regarding Tysabri 2. The great goal is to stop/delete the bad guys in the immune system from causing ms whilst leaving the rest of the immune system intact, so you don't get problems like PML and other infections/complications with Tysabri and other new DMTs. We can do this in mice but the prospects of doing this for MSers is still some way off. We need to think about this as in my opinion the current therapies are far too broad brush, but it's a start.

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