I’ve made mention of the European College of Neuropharmacology that was meeting in Paris last week There’s a video presentation of a panel describing the goings on there now on their website that’s worth watching if you’ve got 30 minutes with nothing to do [Highlights 24th ECNP Congress]. Knowing that you’re unlikely to do that, here are the highlights of the highlights.
I’ve often teased about the signature beginnings and endings of papers that quote the statistics on the high burden of mental illness – "the World-Health-Organization-Public-Health plea for more biological research" I’ve called them. Well, the WHO statistics weren’t enough apparently, so they compiled the EU statistics. Bottom line? 38% of europeans are mentally ill now. Then there’s a major emphasis from everyone on very early intervention, quoting statistics that 75% of mentally ill people trace their symptoms to childhood. So the focus is on early treatment of ADHD and discussion of the "ultra high risk" groups for psychosis [from Dr. McGorry's work?]. They seemed to dance around the issue of using drugs, the "ethical" questions of early treatment, by saying that those treated are "help-seeking" patients, people who are suffering. They too brought up the personalized medicine story, looking for genetic markers to predict drug responses.
If all of this is sounding very familiar, that’s the reason I’m mentioning it. It’s very similar to what our Drs. Insel [NIMH] and Kupfer [DSM-5] have been saying. There’s another similarity. Our NIMH is developing a research classification of sorts – RDoC [Research Domain Criteria] that is "based on dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures." Well, the ECNP is doing a similar thing – in concert with the other colleges of neuropharmacology. Theirs is based on responses to drugs, neuroscience findings, etc. And they’re also thinking of doing something else – renaming drugs based on their mechanism of action. So instead of "anti-psychotic" we might say "Dopamine D2 Blocker."
This is, after all, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, so the focus is expected to be on drugs and treatment – the scientific aspects and the future. But while they do mention a few new drugs, much of what they discuss is new way to use existent drugs or drug classes – treat earlier, directed by genetic markers, etc. New drug treatments mentioned? Drug strategies directed towards targeting the negative symptoms in Schizophrenia.
Those of us who are not neuropsychopharmacologists have been primarily interested these days in the downside of drug treatment – lack of efficacy and toxicity – and the interference of the pharmaceutical industry itself in matters academic. For many, there’s an understandable backlash against pharmacotherapy altogether. I even found myself listening to this panel suspiciously – scanning for danger – rather than hopefully – looking for treatments that might help people with mental illnesses.
Trying to listen to all of this as a Pharmaceutical Executive, I think I’d be wary of throwing much muscle into psychiatry right now. I’m skeptical about the personalized medicine paradigm as it’s being pursued. It feels more like borrowed technology than something driven by a solid set of hypotheses. Why would we be genetically programmed to respond to one specific SSRI over another? There are too many other more likely explanations for the disappointing track record of the antidepressants. And while I’m emotionally drawn to the idea of early detection in Schizophrenia, I’m not convinced that it’s yet a clinical direction – more in the range of research hypothesis. So if I were a drug company czar, I’d be sitting this one out until someone comes up with something [which is apparently what they are doing].
As I said, I’m no psychopharmacologist, but I did have an interesting reaction watching the video and reading through the program. The only thing I saw about the Atypical Antipsychotics was a paper from the Hôpital PitiÃ© SalpÃ©trière cautioning about their use in children [bipolar children]. I realized that I was looking for research into what’s wrong with our current drugs. How do the SSRIs cause Akathisia? Why do people have withdrawal? Are these side effects part of the therapeutic effect? Why do people get the metabolic syndrome with Atypicals? Is it linked to any therapeutic effect? And why do they also have withdrawal?