Central Nervous System (CNS) disorders bear an economic burden of more than $2 trillion in the US and EU and rake in upwards of $80 billion a year for the pharmaceutical industry. Yet they have become as much a vice as a potential virtue. A novel Alzheimer’s disease (AD) medication bears every promise of outshining the likes of Lipitor in blockbuster status, but its chances of reaching the market are also nearly 50% lower, and development costs 30% higher, than those of its cardiovascular counterpart.
Over the years, the discovery of drugs for treating neurological and psychiatric diseases has proven to be one of the highest risk areas in the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the huge resources that have been invested in CNS discovery, it remains a fact that a significant number of approvals have been for new formulations, incremental improvements to existing therapies, or the use of known drugs in different clinical settings.This article assesses why the development of CNS drugs with truly novel mechanisms remains so challenging. It discusses the opportunities provided by the many new technologies available, to accelerate the drug discovery path and deepen our understanding of CNS disease. However, the article also emphasises the need to integrate such new technologies with approaches that have proven useful in the past and in particular with the continual reanalysis of past information.