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Psychiatry Newsletter - Doing Our (Unilateral) Bit for Psychiatry

Hopkins BrainWise Fall 2009

Doing Our (Unilateral) Bit for Psychiatry

By: J. Raymond DePaulo
Date: November 2, 2009


This entire issue of BrainWise is a simple act of consciousness-raising.

As new molecular and brain-imaging tools edge us close to breakthroughs in severe mental disorders, that and a clear need for a new generation of therapies have sharpened our scientists’ drive.

The quality of our research is at a high point, as we show in this issue.

But we can only advance so far on our own. The public should expect us, no, demand of us, that we also collaborate with pharmaceutical companies. In the best of all worlds, drug companies want to develop specific, effective, low-cost treatments with few side effects.

And so do we.

These past two years, however, questionable and conflicted relationships have undermined professional partnerships with Pharma. Apparent conflicts of interest by clinician-scientists and institutions—not Hopkins—have aroused both congressional leaders and the public.  

These conflicts undermine academic researchers, most of whom work hard and play by the rules. Why is this happening now? I think a change in economic rewards and incentives has reshaped behavior.

Thirty years ago when I was junior faculty, some companies would hire only sales reps who were registered pharmacists or had advanced science degrees.

Since then, it’s become clear to Pharma that a dollar spent on R&D can’t match the return of a dollar spent on marketing. Industry doesn’t depend on us to advance their research now so much as to act as “opinion leaders” to advance sales.

To my mind, this has whittled away most of the good that we can accomplish together.

Correcting this is far from simple and likely calls for a radical review of FDA policy and perhaps patent laws. My pipedream is that drugs which are not truly novel should get a short patent life, while truly novel medications would get much longer patent protection—it’s a tactic to encourage new drugs based on new mechanisms.

R&D carries high risk, no doubt about it, so we must provide incentives for Pharma and medical researchers to ride this wave of scientific breakthroughs together. Our patients need better treatments!  

J. Raymond DePaulo, Jr.,
Henry Phipps Professor and
Chairman, Department of
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Articles in this Issue

Psychiatry in the Real World

Schizophrenia Update

The Bench. The Bedside.