New medicines treat mental illness

August 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Pharmaceutical companies are developing 85 new medicines for mental disorders, according to a new survey released by Washington-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Pharmaceutical companies are developing 85 new medicines for mental disorders, according to a new survey released by Washington-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The report offers new hope to the mentally ill, who rely heavily on appropriate pharmaceuticals in order to live independently. Treatment success for most mental illnesses - at 60% to 80% - is higher than for many other diseases, PhRMA noted in its report.

Alzheimer's disease, a form of dementia which currently affects 4 million Americans and is expected to afflict many more as the population ages, is a favorite target of contemporary researchers. The disease primarily affects the elderly, but many AIDS-infected patients also develop similar dementias. There are 23 medicines in development to treat this type of illness, according to the report.

Substance abuse disorders are also under attack with 19 products in development, and there are 18 medicines in development for depression and 16 for treatment of schizophrenia.

"Over the past half-century, pharmaceutical research has helped transform mental illness from a misunderstood cause of shame and fear into a highly treatable condition," said Alan Holmer, president of PhRMA. "Today there are more than 65 approved medicines for various mental illnesses. And this year alone, pharmaceutical companies will invest $4.8 billion to discover and develop medicines acting on the central nervous system, including drugs for mental illness."

Statistics demonstrate the need for products in this therapeutic class, which is presently the third-largest drug class in the world.

In the United States, for example, 17 million people are diagnosed with clinical depression each year. Severe depression affects one in every four women, and 15% of all people over the age of 65. Thirty thousand people commit suicide each year, often as result of depression.

Treating the disease can be expensive, but new therapies helped lower the cost of treating an acute episode of clinical depression by 25% between 1991 and 1995, according to PhRMA. Also, lithium therapy, which is prescribed to treat bipolar disorder, saved an estimated $145 billion since 1979, PhRMA's report noted.

In the past two years, drugs approved for the treatment of depression have included an extended-release form of an antidepressant, which may improve patient compliance, and the first medicine in a new class of antidepressants that stimulates the release of serotonin as well as another depression-fighting chemical.

Schizophrenia, meanwhile, affects as many as three million Americans and their families and costs society up to $30 billion annually. As many as 100,000 schizophrenia patients are in public mental hospitals on any given day, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Schizophrenia patients require anti-psychotics that control both their "positive" symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, and their "negative" symptoms, such as emotional withdrawal. One medicine being tested would allow a schizophrenia patient to be treated within his or her community as opposed to in an institutionalized setting, potentially lowering costs per patient by $23,000 per year, according to PhRMA.

Anxiety disorders, social phobias and substance abuse illnesses are also targets current research. One company is developing a skin patch to treat generalized anxiety disorder, and another is working on a vaccine against cocaine dependence.

According to PhRMA, three to six million Americans have panic attacks, 20 million have social phobias that influence their daily decisions and 25 million experience some form of substance abuse.

Holmer said: "Thanks to medicine, the majority of patients with mental illness can work, contribute to society and take care of their families." PR

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