While one in five Americans take at least one psychiatric medication, our country is facing a crisis in new drug breakthroughs. Dr. Richard A Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weil Cornell Medical College believes the drugs available to patients with illnesses like major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia often fail to adequately help patients, or their side effects are intolerable. The six S.S.R.I. antidepressants, or “me too” drugs all basically do the same thing, as do the new 10 atypical antipsychotic drugs.
“With rare exceptions, it is hard to think of a single truly novel psychotropic drug that has emerged in the last 30 years. True, the new psychotropic drugs are generally safer and more tolerable than older prototypes, but they are no more effective. So why has the pharmaceutical industry churned out so many copycat drugs?” asks Dr. Friedman. He believes we don’t yet understand the underlying cause of most psychiatric disorders, partly because the brain is distinctively hard to study. Friedman says, “You can’t just biopsy the brain and analyze it. That’s why scientists have had great trouble identifying new targets for psychiatric drugs.” And, currently, the pharmaceutical industry does not seem interested in the long-term financial risk of finding new psychotropic drugs.
However, academic researchers who are not obligated to shareholders are freer to do high-risk experiments that can fail. Large research programs like Brain Activity Map, as well as gene-sequencing technology can help to identify the circuits and genes that are connected to psychiatric disorders. These findings may in turn lure drug makers to reinvest in psychiatric drug development.
Dr. Friedman sums up the reality of the situation…. “But if we are to find better medical solutions for the mental illnesses that disrupt and destroy so many lives, we need to acknowledge a simple truth: there can be no innovation without financial – and medical – risk.” nytimes.com 8/20/13