Demystifying the workings of the brain have proven to be a far more daunting task for pharmaceutical companies whose bread and butter rely upon the research and development of new psychotropics. As a result, nine major pharmaceutical companies have agreed to pool data on drug trials in an effort to streamline the methodology for formulating new medications to treat psychiatric disorders.
This collaboration, which unites Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Roche and others, will co-mingle findings on 67 trials regarding 11 currently approved drugs. This will make up the largest database of clinical trial data in psychiatric research.
It’s about time! From a pure scientific perspective, the psychiatric community has learned much about brain science in the last 30 years, but apparently not enough. The expectation was that this knowledge would readily translate into new and exciting blockbuster medications that would break new ground in the treatment of mental health disorders. That hasn’t happened. In 2010, the FDA approved only two drugs for psychiatry – Latuda (lurasidone) for the treatment of schizophrenia, and Oleptro (trazodone extended release) for the treatment of major depressive disorder. This is a paltry track record for this year, to say the least.
The major barriers to new and novel drug development have been the fierce competition between rival companies and the limited exchange of science across the industry. This is a classic example of how huge egos impede progress for the greater good. Other barriers include antiquated clinical trial methodology, inaccurate animal models for doing experiments and a paucity of tools and tests in healthy volunteers to provide early indications of whether agents in development might work. In short, many pharmaceutical drug trials are simply a mess.
Supplanting new drug development in recent years has been the pharmaceutical industry’s propensity toward finding new markets for existing drugs – something they’ve become quite adept at doing. This keeps the cart before the horse, and it’s high time for this tactic to change. By working together, hopefully this will be one step that will help reverse the dearth of new medications in psychiatry.