Editor’s focus: The struggle against schizophrenia

Therapeutics for mental illness have always been tricky, but schizophrenia seems a bit more intractable than most

Jeffrey Bouley
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I don’t know anyone personally with schizophrenia. I’m not aware of anyone in my family with the condition, either. The closest association I have is my stepson’s stepsister via his dad’s remarriage. So, a non-blood-related sibling to my non-blood-related son, whose struggles with the mental illness I have only heard about second- and third-hand; not exactly a strong link to schizophrenia in my life.
And yet as I work the pages of DDNews, schizophrenia is often on my mind (no pun intended).
As a longtime journalist in the arenas of medicine, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, I’ve read plenty about schizophrenia. I know how devastating a disease it is to the victims and their families, friends and co-workers. I know how hard it is to treat in any meaningful way. I know how hard it can be to keep patients on medications even when they are working—or working somewhat.
And yet every few months I wonder: “Why doesn’t more news of schizophrenia research show up in my inbox?” And it’s not as if there is a plethora of news to find by searching online either—certainly no booming business for this indication like there is in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression and so many others. (Not to mention non-neurological/non-psychiatric conditions like cancer, inflammation, liver disease, pain and immunology.)
We did have a story among our online Daily News offerings recently titled “sICAM1’s link to schizophrenia” (which you can find by going to our homepage and using the search window to look for the Editconnect code E09131801), but mostly at DDNews, schizophrenia is mentioned in passing and not as a focus.
Which isn’t to say there is no news, of course. Novartis entered into a collaboration early this year with Pear Therapeutics to develop novel prescription digital therapeutics—software applications designed to effectively treat disease and improve clinical outcomes for patients—for patients with schizophrenia. Such “digital therapy” would reportedly deliver clinically proven treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to patients through mobile and desktop applications and, once approved, it might be prescribed alongside drug therapies.
Also early this year, Boehringer Ingelheim announced that its Phase 2 Alzheimer’s disease trials with investigational compound BI 409306 had not met their efficacy endpoints; going forward, the company will refocus efforts on ongoing schizophrenia trials with this compound.
And the guest commentary for this issue talks about personalized medicine for mental illnesses, and addresses schizophrenia quite prominently.
I’m sure schizophrenia will also be covered in several posters and presentations this year at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting (a preview of which we offer in this month's issue of the magazine). But, in the end, there is still more chirping of crickets in a research wilderness than there are shouts of “Eureka!”
But according to a report titled “Schizophrenia Drugs Market Analysis, By Therapeutic Class (Second-Generation, Third-Generation Antipsychotics), By Treatment (Oral, Injectables), By Major Markets, And Segment Forecasts, 2016-2022,” the global schizophrenia drugs market is expected to be valued at $7.9 billion by 2022. The market is anticipated to be collectively driven by improved drug delivery technologies, availability of long-acting injectables and increases in patients seeking treatment. Currently, second- and third-generation antipsychotics capture significant market share. Pipeline drugs undergoing clinical trials right now intend to block specific subtypes of serotonin and dopamine receptors, which would help minimize the symptoms, modulate increased dopamine levels and further improve memory. But the growth in schizophrenia market is anticipated to be primarily driven by the arrival of late-stage pipeline products, such as Intra-Cellular Therapies' ITI-007 and Alkermes' ALKS-3831, which are directed towards the treatment of negative symptoms.
But as we all know around here, going after symptoms is never as good as going after core causes of disease, and so there is clearly potential ground for pharma and biotech to cover. And perhaps one day soon I can stop wondering where the news of schizophrenia R&D is and, instead, wonder which items from which I shall pick and choose to populate the pages of this magazine and our website.

Jeffrey Bouley

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