Friday, May 16, 2008

Neurotech: the multi billions market

Don deBethizy is describing a class of drugs called nicotinics, which he says can restore the memory of Alzheimer’s patients, control pain, and improve attention spans. What’s more, they may boost cognition and memory in healthy people.

It seems far out even for the neurotechnology industry, a rapidly growing cluster of companies—small upstarts as well as pharmaceutical giants—that want to alter your gray matter and make billions of dollars in the process.

These firms are trying to adapt groundbreaking research into the basic workings of the brain to new drugs for ailments ranging from insomnia to multiple sclerosis.

Some companies are trying to regrow portions of the brain using stem cells. Others have developed implants to insert into a person’s head to control seizures and restore hearing. Cyber­kinetics Neurotechnology Systems, a Foxborough, Massachusetts, company, implanted electrodes into the brain of a quadriplegic that allowed him to operate machines with his thoughts.

Targacept is one of about 500 brain­tech companies going after the estimated $2 trillion that it costs globally when brains atrophy, degenerate, experience depression, cause convulsions, register pain, trigger anxiety, or simply fail to work as well as we would like. The size of the market is huge, according to data from the World Health Organization and others, which report that more than 1 billion people suffer from brain-related ailments each year. That number has grown rapidly during the past generation, as neurodisorders like depression have gone from being underdiagnosed to perhaps over­diagnosed, and Western populations, along with their brains, have aged. It’s hard to believe, but even in our Prozac nation, possibly tens of millions of people who might need brain meds aren’t getting them. In some parts of the developing world, the figure could be as high as 90 percent.

Neurotech’s returns are already enormous. In 2006, the industry brought in more than $120 billion—about $101 billion from drugs and the rest from neurodevices ($4.5 billion) and neurodiagnostics ($15 billion)—up 10 percent from the previous year, reports NeuroInsights, a market research and investment advisory firm. But industry analysts insist that this figure hardly begins to suggest the potential. For Alz­heimer’s, a disease currently without an effective treatment for about 4.5 million sufferers in the U.S., 40 companies—including behemoths like Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, and Wyeth, as well as Targacept and a gaggle of similar upstarts—are testing 48 new drugs in human trials in a quest for the Prozac of dementia.

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