Putting Our BRAINS Together

Putting Our BRAINS Together

04.02.13 | By Kaelan Hollon

In the U.S., we are fortunate to have a dynamic, collaborative biomedical research ecosystem that encompasses ideas and persistence of researchers across government, industry and academia. It's a tremendous national resource that greatly benefits both the health of our people and our economy. And it's one that we must continue to nurture and support. Collaborations among partners in the ecosystem are critical to help advance scientific understanding of some of the most complex diseases facing patients, including a broad range of neurological conditions.

The White House's new initiative known as Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN), formally unveiled earlier today by President Obama, reflects this core American asset. The National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation make up the brains behind BRAIN, and they've put together a team of neuroscientists, engineers and nanotechnologists, alongside private sector partners like the Allen Institute for Brain Science, for the first phase of the project (see video explanation). The aim through partnerships such as these is to unlock some of mysteries behind neuroscience, expanding our knowledge in ways that can lead to new pathways for treating or preventing neurological and psychiatric diseases. As we said a few weeks ago when news of the BRAIN program surfaced, our sector is excited and proud to be a central part of the solution for patients facing neurological diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer's, PTSD, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

According to the recent report by the Analysis Group, there are more than 5,000 medicines currently in development by biopharmaceutical companies - including more than 600 for neurological disorders. Of particular note, of the neurological medicines in development, 84 percent are potential first-in-class treatments. On average, it takes 10-15 years and more than $1 billion to bring a new medicine to patients. Since 2000, PhRMA member companies have invested over $500 billion in the search for new treatments and cures, including nearly $50 billion in 2011 alone. Frankly, the discovery and development process yields more disappointment and setbacks than successes, particularly in neurological diseases. For example, between 1988 and 2011, 101 potential treatments for Alzheimer's disease failed to reach patients, while in the same time period, three medicines were approved to treat symptoms of the disease, according to a recent PhRMA report entitled "Setbacks and Stepping Stones." That 34-to-one ratio of setbacks to successes illustrates the difficulty of both brain research and developing new medicines for Alzheimer's. History and the science tell us that many - realistically most - of the more than 600 medicines in development for neurological conditions will not be approved for patients. But these projects and the partnerships that are formed in the process will lead to new thinking, new risks and new investments.

So we have build on the BRAIN Initiative, and remember that mapping is but one important step in the fight against Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases. Investments, no matter how well-meaning or well-funded, guarantee no sure successes or returns. In the face of these deeply disappointing setbacks, researchers take the findings from the unsuccessful projects and use that new information to step forward and continue searching. It's a good reminder that in order to make progress on disease, we need a policy framework that encourages innovators to take risks, move forward and accept the inevitable setbacks.

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