Why no public hue and cry over neuroscience disinvestment? Does nobody care about brain diseases and brain disorders?

The past few years have seen astonishing disinvestment by the pharmaceutical industry in neuroscience research. There have been closures announced of whole research divisions by virtually all the major pharmaceutical companies. They are ceasing research in neuroscience because of its complexity, cost, and their current lack of capacity to deliver a pipeline of meaningful market prospects for the medicines they are attempting to develop. Estimates of the cost of bringing a new drug to the market are in the $USD 500 M – 1 B range. These are astonishing costs for any private entity to maintain on an ongoing basis (especially when the costs of the many failed drugs are also taken into account). Public investment has not filled this research funding gap, and there has been little public or political anger over the issue. Imagine the public response to this scale of disinvestment in cancer or infectious diseases. At the same time as this disinvestment by the pharmaceutical industry, there has been an ever greater quantification of the cost of brain-related disorders to the economies of the developed and developing world. The costs are quite staggering indeed.

From the European Brain Council:

The 2010 report examines 19 major groups of disorders of the brain rather than the previous 12, and also covers 514 million people in all compared to 466 million following Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession to the European Union.

It estimates the total direct and indirect costs to European society of brain disorders has risen to 798 billion euros, affecting more than a third of the continental population.

Mood disorders – including major depression and bipolar disorder – are estimated to be the most costly diagnostic group, requiring resources of 113.405 billion euros each year, with 33.3 million sufferers.

Dementia is a close second at 105.163 billion, with more than 88 billion of that total coming in direct non-medical costs (e.g. social services, special accommodation, informal care).

Neuromuscular disorders, however, covering a wide range of condition including muscular dystrophies, cost the most per patient, at 30,052 euros annually, with each multiple sclerosis patient costing 26,974 euros.

Headaches and sleep disorders, meanwhile, only cost 285 and 348 euros respectively – but 152.8 million people are badly affected by headaches and migraines [sic] annually, while 44.9 million struggle with sleeping patterns.

The growing number of individuals surviving to old age across the world has rightly been a matter of great jubilation, but old age itself is the principal risk factor for dementia.

Compare the frequency of the appearance of the following words tracked by Google N-gram by clicking on the link below:  cancer, brain disease, brain disorder, dementia, schizophrenia 1800-2008. The disparity is remarkable!

Google Ngram Viewer, Ngrams: cancer, brain disease, brain disorder, dementia, schizophrenia 1800-2008.

The disparity is just as remarkable for brain research, cancer research:

brain research, cancer research.

I’m not certain what the lesson is, but perhaps one lesson is that cancer is a word that has no counterpart in neuroscience. Perhaps we need just such a word – and I may have one. More tomorrow.

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist

3 thoughts on “Why no public hue and cry over neuroscience disinvestment? Does nobody care about brain diseases and brain disorders?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s