Public lecture: Gap between medical need and drug discovery efforts
Lecture by Professor Tamas Bartfai (USA) takes place at University of Tartu Assembly Hall on 25 November 2015 at 16:00.
Pharmaceutical industry spends ca 15 % of its income on research, the highest portion of income in any industry and the product development time is ca 10 years and the capital needed per approved drug is ca 1.2 bUSD, also the development of drugs is the most regulated human activity. The largest expenditures in drug development are made by private pharmaceutical companies and they focus on the largest markets which are still USA and Europe although the Chinese and Indian middle class numbers now 400 mUSD or more people thus the companies chose to work on rare diseases - oncology, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. At the same time most large companies stopped research in pain and stopped efforts to develop new antipsychotics, and drugs to slow progression or to stop Alzheimer’s disease and almost none is investing in malaria medicine despite of the disease affecting the largest number of people albeit living in low income countries.
The reasons have to do with the companies need for relatively safe projects which result in approvable and high cost drugs and do not have 3- or 4-year long clinical trials as e.g. in case of Alzheimer’s disease. Also scientists have their serious responsibility. One of the reasons for popularity of oncology as therapeutic area is our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of different cancers, and thus of the wealth of molecular drug targets that were discovered. We have no similar understanding of schizophrenia, or neuropathic pain. As a result, pain research has been mostly stopped because of the lack of good molecular targets and of reliable, translatable models, so the last 9 pain drugs that failed in the clinical trials were all working in the preclinical models, meaning that these models are useless. Governments who pay for most of the basic research, and indirectly also for the medicines, can affect this development.
Professor Tamas Bartfai, Ph.D., focuses on two main research areas: 1) the roles of neuropeptide galanin in depression, anxiety, and seizures; and 2) fever, cytokine action in the brain and thermoregulation. The neuropeptide galanin has been found to influence several physiological processes such as cognition and memory, and regulation of mood. This is achieved at three galanin receptor subtypes that control the release of various neurotransmitters and hormones (e.g., acetylcholine, noradrenaline, glutamate, dopamine, insulin, growth hormone, prolactin).
Despite being among the most common pathophysiological signs of disease, we know little about fever. By studying the actions of fever producing substances, pyrogens in the brain, we are learning about fever, an adaptive stress response to microbial infection and to psychological stress. The center of the fever response is the warm sensitive and pyrogen sensitive neuron that is being characterized in great molecular detail; providing insights into how temperature regulation, metabolic rate and aging are correlated. There is a strong emphasis on the translational aspects of the research. Dr Bartfai has been involved in industry and academia in the development of several drugs that are in clinical use and he brings this angle of investigation to each experiment in the laboratory and the department.
Ülo Langel, ulo [ät] neurochem.su.se.