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Brain research funding crisis

14th June 2011

Research into mental illness could be dealt a setback after a number of large pharmaceutical companies announced they would withdraw funding, according to European scientists.

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Brain diseases and mental disorders account for more than a third of the total burden of disease in Europe, according to a report published by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP).

However, some big drug companies have pulled the plug on funding for research and development into new drugs for common diseases like depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's.

Public spending on R&D in the same area was also being cut, the ECNP said.

Former ECNP president and neuropsychopharmacology professor David Nutt of Imperial College London said brain science funding was entering 'dark days.'

Big pharma companies like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca have said research and development into new drug candidates in the area of brain research is too expensive and difficult.

In Europe, public funding for this kind of research is falling behind investment in the United States, according to the ECNP report.

Report co-author Guy Goodwin said the withdrawal of funding for research would mean that the development of some new treatments for brain disorders would slow down or even stop altogether.

Around 27% of the population of the EU, or 80 million Europeans, is affected by a brain disorder in any given year, statistics show.

Goodwin, who heads the psychiatry department at Oxford University, said that an important part of Europe's knowledge economy was now under threat, and that patient well-being would inevitably be affected.

The stigma of mental illness had proved a major obstacle in persuading companies and public bodies to spend money on mental illness drug development, according to Goodwin and Nutt.

Drugmakers who pioneer successful treatments for cancer or heart disease will win faster profits and greater public support than they would for any advances in brain research.

Brain diseases and mental disorders cost the EU around 386 billion Euros ($555 billion) a year in 2005, according to the most recent figures.

The authors of the study said that cost was far greater than any other disease area, heart disease and cancer included.

Mental and brain disorders were so costly because of work disability, the effects on the social obligations of patients and premature death, and look set to climb as the population ages, the ECNP report said.

European Brain Council executive director Alastair Benbow said that if steps were not taken to stimulate research and investment, brain medicine could be dealt a lasting blow, and that the report showed how urgent the need was for further funding for neuropsychiatric drug research.


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