Clinician's Digest


Clinician's Digest

By Garry Cooper

November/December 2010


By now, we've grown accustomed to expecting successive new waves of psychotropic medications to make their much ballyhooed appearance on the market, each set of drugs accompanied by claims that they're far more effective than their predecessors, with fewer side effects.

Antidepressant tricyclics gave way to SSRIs, which have more recently led to SSNRIs (which affect norepinephrine levels as well as serotonin); the first generation of antipsychotics was followed by the atypical antipsychotics. But beginning last winter, a series of surprising announcements indicated that even the mighty psychopharmaceutical industry has hit hard times. Claiming that researching and developing psychotropics has become too expensive and unprofitable, both GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZenica said they were suspending or curtailing research on drugs targeting depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions.

These announcements challenged the widespread belief that psychiatric medications were earning billions for the companies that manufactured them. The July 10 issue of Science maintains that, in fact, the special difficulties of developing psychotropic meds have dragged profits down. It takes pharmaceutical companies close to nine years to bring to market a psychotropic (known as a central nervous system or CNS drug), and companies have been shying away from timelines beyond five or six years, according to psychiatrist Ronald Diamond, author of the textbook Instant

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