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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 6, 2011

Novartis: No More Neuroscience

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Posted by Derek

Neuroscience is a long-established graveyard for drug discovery - there are a lot of serious disorders there, but it's very hard to do anything about them. So the "unmet medical need" is being exacerbated by both of those factors at once.

And if you need some empirical proof of those assertions, look no farther than the press releases. GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca have already bailed out of the field, and now it looks like Novartis is joining them. That doesn't leave too many big players, and there are two effects to that which come immediately to mind: that progress may slow down, because there's not as much money and effort going on, but that this leaves the door open for smaller organizations who can take advantage of any new discoveries and/or get lucky.

I spent the first eight or nine years of my med-chem career doing CNS, and am not overwhelmed by the desire to do it again - at least, not under standard drug-discovery conditions. But the rewards are still out there - on a high, high shelf - for those who want to try.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | The Central Nervous System


1. Curious Wavefunction on December 6, 2011 2:00 PM writes...

What else do we expect for a field where most drugs are used without knowledge of how they work. To me that signifies a need for greater investment of resources, not fewer, but those are the times we live in.

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2. pete on December 6, 2011 2:02 PM writes...

Lemme go way out on a limb: they'll be back before too long. (...that's maybe like predicting that the stock market will go up "before too long".)

But seriously, Neuroscience has been such a poster child for cyclical on-again / off-again romance w/in Pharma world.

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3. Anonymous on December 6, 2011 2:29 PM writes...

Does that include neurodegenerative disease work (e.g. Alzheimer's)?

Speaking of which, this paper would be ripe for comment from a drug discovery perspective:

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4. HelicalZz on December 6, 2011 3:05 PM writes...

Some of the very largest fines for marketing improprieties are in this space. Difficult from both the development and responsible marketing side.


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5. TX Raven on December 6, 2011 3:32 PM writes...


To me that means that if society wants novel medicines to manage CNS disorders, people need to be ready to open the wallet wider than in other therapeutic areas.

And while they are at it, hire some good medicinal chemists...

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6. Student on December 6, 2011 4:10 PM writes...

Science careers was just talking about this.

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7. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on December 6, 2011 4:13 PM writes...

It's probably cheaper just to build more prisons!

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8. Ellen Clark (@Clarksearch) on December 6, 2011 4:17 PM writes...

I have been reading the news about Novartis getting out of nueroscience area with intereest. I actually have a search right now for a large pharma for an expert in psychiatric genetics. So not all companies are abandoning this field. That said it has been hard to find anyone in industry with this background. I have been told they just don't exist. Plenty of academic types though. And after attending a conference with all the leading experts in this field I came away with the notion that they think pharma has abandoned them. So they welcomed me at their meeting with enthusiasm.

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9. Fedup on December 6, 2011 5:55 PM writes...

There is another problem with USA industry: The Idiot Recruiters

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10. Anonymous on December 6, 2011 6:18 PM writes...

I guess you're all stuck with Prozac! Gonna be a long time before you get better meds!

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11. petros on December 7, 2011 8:05 AM writes...

Interesting developments but little seems to have improved with more knowledge.

20 years back the British Pharmacology Society meetings were dominated by neuropharmacology because they were so many company sites focused on it in the UK.

Merck's Terlings Park site was established solely for CNS R&D and managed only one successful drug, an anti-emetic NK1 antagonist, before the site was closed and allowed to decay.

So whither the CNS specialists like Lundbeck?

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12. beentheredonethat on December 7, 2011 9:07 AM writes...

Dear Petros,
Terling's Park actually discovered two successful drugs (Maxalt and Emend) in 20 years so probably about the industry average over that period of time. I take your point though-CNS is a very tough area.

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13. Anonymous on December 7, 2011 9:16 AM writes...

AstraZeneca have not exited Neuroscience as far as I know, the Nature article seems to be incorrect.

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14. Depressing on December 7, 2011 9:38 AM writes...

@ 12- My impression was Emend came from Rahway! Correct me if am wrong.

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15. marcello on December 7, 2011 9:49 AM writes...

that's why we need to applaud initiatives of founding and funding such open-source open-exchange organizations like Allen Brain Atlas in Seattle.

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16. ell on December 7, 2011 10:07 AM writes...

Fedup, you must have been seriously burned by a recruiter to say such nasty things. I for one graduated top in my class in Biology at U of Minnesota. I have run a successful business since 1997 after raising 3 children, one of whom is an Olympian. My husband and I will have been married 39 years at the end of this month. I also am first in my age division when I run races. I am proud what I do and I am insulted to be called an idiot.

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17. petros on December 7, 2011 10:28 AM writes...

I always forget about rizatriptan, probably because I looked at the NK1 literature a lot more.

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18. Anonymous on December 7, 2011 11:05 AM writes...

"But the rewards are still out there - on a high, high shelf - for those who want to try."

Have to disagree, not in today's payer environment.

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19. CR on December 7, 2011 12:52 PM writes...

@13, anonymous:

AZ did, in fact, leave neuroscience (2010) - they closed their Wilmington, DE site and stopped doing psychiatry. They may still be in neurodegeneration; but they significantly cut their neuroscience by leaving psychiatry.

@16, ell:

FedUp obviously was casting a wide net with the "idiot recruiters", but I don't see how your comment refutes the statement? I don't see how raising an "olympian", being married and coming in first place in races helps in your recruiting? No offense, but they are completely different, and idiot recruiter could still do those things, couldn't they?

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20. beentheredonethat on December 7, 2011 12:53 PM writes...

@14-Made in Rahway, designed at TP. Lets call it a joint effort.

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21. newnickname on December 7, 2011 2:15 PM writes...

Re: recruiters

I've been on both sides of the recruitment firms (seeking candidates; being a candidate) and I am mostly disappointed. Very few of them are scientists so they don't fully understand what I need or what I offer. Most of the time, I'd get a batch of resumes that just appeared to be LIFO. "Analytical chemist, no knowledge of NMR? I said I need a synthetic chemist with NMR." Or, I'd be directed to a position far outside my areas of expertise.

Some of them seemed to make their recommendations based upon the "handshake firmness ranking", "smile brightness scale" or "percentage commission", all highly reliable predictors of success.

However, if I ever need an Olympic sailor to help get a drug candidate to "sail through the FDA", I'll know who to call first (but I'll ask you to discount your finder's fee).

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22. simpl on December 8, 2011 1:08 PM writes...

The Nature article didn't ring quite true, today's wall st journal has it better. Novartis will stay in alzheimer, epilepsy (a long-term franchise) and mGluR5 inhibition, and presumably with the in-licensed launch products.
Of course, ergot alkaloids as neurotransmitter analogues were a cornucopia for Sandoz from their start a century ago. I was sad to see that era come to an end, but it dried up when they quit migrane research about 20 years ago.

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