The last couple of decades have been a golden age for neuroscience research, providing the first steps in understanding how the brain works and how it can go awry. Yet despite these advances on the “benchside,” progress on the “bedside”—that is, for patients with neuropsychiatric disorders, brain injury and other nervous system disorders—has largely stalled.
For one Stony Brook professor, the problem may stem from the way disease research has been approached in the past.
Dr. Dennis Choi is chair of the Department of Neurology as well as director of the Institute for Advanced Neurosciences at Stony Brook’s School of Medicine.
“Translational neuroscience is such a large and vigorous area, both for academic and industry,” Choi said. “At Stony Brook, many basic research programs are actively tracking translational opportunities, looking for ways their discoveries might lead to better diagnostic tests or therapies for diseases of the nervous system.”
Choi led a multi-institutional review of the neuroscience drug industry, which was recently published in the journal Neuron.
In the report, Choi and colleagues from other institutions like the NIH, Harvard and MIT, outlined the need to create new policy-based incentives for the development of new breakthrough drugs.
“In essence, the core difficulty is the complexity of central nervous system biology,” Choi said. “This leads to greater-than-average uncertainty in therapeutic targeting and poses a challenge for clinical trials.”
“Biotech companies tend to go after disease targets that are relatively well-defined, even if disease prevalence is low, as their small size allows companies to achieve commercial success with small markets,” Choi said.
While the neurobiology of disease is not expected to ease up anytime soon, Choi and his colleagues think that implementing new incentives may tip the scales for biotech companies.
“Our hope is that we can increase the reward side of the risk-reward calculus that determines where pharmaceutical companies invest research and development dollars,” Choi said.
One policy change the authors have proposed is to strategize the way market returns are regulated for breakthrough drugs, something that would not require any upfront funding. In the end, it is the patient whose well being remains on the line.
“Ultimately, we need to keep incentivizing the search for new treatments, for the sake of the many patients who currently suffer from a wide range of neurological and psychiatric diseases,” Choi said.
In the meantime, much still remains to be understood, even for the most prevalent central nervous system disorders. To forge ahead, academic and private organizations must work together to come up with policies that make the most sense for the neuroscience community as a whole.