Neuroscience groups alarmed as pharma bolts brain drug R&D

Facing an unusually high risk of failure at the same time investors are demanding that Big Pharma show them the new products, a slate of European companies has dropped out or scaled back work in neuroscience. GlaxoSmithKline led the way out, followed by AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis. Even Merck in the U.S. is cutting back. And now the neuroscience disease groups say that they expect to see fewer new drugs pushing up through the pipeline--with potentially alarming consequences for patients.

The Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development notes that clinical trial costs for neuroscience programs tend to run higher than in other fields, even as the approval rate for new drugs is lower. "One key reason is that there are few proven biomarkers in CNS [central nervous system] diseases, so it means expensive research for potentially little gain," Dr. Mary Baker, president of the European Federation of Neurological Associations, tells the Wall Street Journal.

So what's the solution? Experts like Patrick Vallance, chief of medical R&D at GSK, say that new programs will need to be backed by public collaborators which can help foot the bill. And others note that more money needs to be spent pushing basic research that can help identify new drugs that can do more for patients.

"Neurosciences research in many areas is very exciting but in some areas is not mature enough to make drug discovery efficient or effective today--which is why I believe that further investment is needed, and have argued the case for public-sector funding in this area," says Vallance.

- here's the story from the Wall Street Journal