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Neuroscience & The Pharmaceutical Industry

Neuroscience within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry has been a hugely controversial subject for many years now. The retreat of Large Biopharma from neuroscience has been continuous for the last decade, this is due to low drug development success rates and several expensive late-stage clinical failures. This has led to several big pharmaceutical companies to either shut down their operations within neurology or reduce their research and development in this area. Recently, there has been speculations concerning whether those Big Pharma companies will become more inclined to recuperate and revive their research within the much-needed field.

What exactly is Neuroscience?

Neuroscience is the study of the nervous systems structure, functions and how it develops. One of it's primary focuses is the brain, neuroscientists analyse the brains impact on behavioural and cognitive functions.

The nervous system's complexity has created a challenge to scientists, who are trying to understand the route caused to neurological diseases. Diseases and illnesses such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, anxiety disorders and neurodegenerative diseases have left individuals and society highly perplexed.

Why is Neuroscience important?

Brain diseases are the biggest contributors to global diseases with The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that 700 million cases of mental and neurological disorders (MNDs) are reported annually —accounting for 13 per cent of the global disease burden and it is expected to double by 2030. And yet it is one of the least funded therapy areas. 

Why have several big pharma companies retreated from neuroscience?

There are several reasons as to why pharmaceutical companies are no longer primarily focused on CNS operations. This is due to it being a highly challenging area for drug research and development, with the addition of complex diseases, limited understanding of underlying pathologies, difficulty identifying appropriate endpoints, high attrition rates and access hurdles, etc. The risk/reward ratio in neurology is significantly lower than in other fields. Drugs which target the nervous system have a success rate of around 6%, which is less than half of the already low figures for all other drugs. 

Andrew Powaleny the Senior Director, Public Affairs, PhRMA, USA stated that “Neurological disorders are notoriously complex and much of the biology underlying this wide range of diseases remain unknown, making it particularly challenging to research and develop medicines to treat them." This is not to say that it is impossible, as many smaller firms as well as some large pharma companies have restarted their work and opened their operations in neuroscience; currently working on cures and treatments for these diseases.

Reviving Neuroscience

Smaller companies such as US-based neuroscience biotech Vistagen and Axsome Therapeutics, as well as Chinese biotech Brii Biosciences, are currently in the works of developing innovative CNS drugs and treatments.

Companies with the likes of GSK, BMS and AstraZeneca who had once exited neuroscience have recently begun to be more involved within the space and research into neurological diseases. Furthermore, Biogen and Novartis have increased their investments within the field.

Large Pharmaceutical companies such as The Janssen Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson have been committed and dedicated to developing novel therapies for neurological and degenerative diseases for many years.

Bill Martin, Global Therapeutic Area Head of Neuroscience at The Janssen Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson and Johnson stated in an interview ‘We have a proud, 60-year heritage in neuroscience. Today, a truly golden era in neuroscience is emerging which is being defined by increased precision’.

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