I attended a local NAMI conference 4 years ago where the guest speaker was the head of the school of medicine’s psychiatry department. He promised that within 5 years there would be truly effective medications and within 10 a cure for bipolar disorder. How close are we? I am so frustrated and angry with the pharmaceutical industry, the politics and funding that delay real research, but mostly by the chase for the almighty dollar. It seems that all of the recent medications are just tweaks of previous medications that allow new copyrights and obscene profits. What real difference is there between Haldol, Risperdal, Zyprexa, Geodon, Abilify and all the rest, other than the opportunity for the pharmaceuticals to make unconscionable profits? Where is research in the spirit of a Jonas Salk?
The pharmaceutical companies bring great innovations along with a lot of baggage. They are certainly major funding sources for research on new medications, but of course their work is primarily about making a product that sells and making profits for their shareholders. But making a product that doesn’t work or that causes severe or dangerous side effects that are not known before the drug is in wide release can hurt the profitability of the company, so it is still in their best interest to get accurate data from their studies. Of course there will always be that motivation for some to cut corners just to make a buck, at the expense of vulnerable patients, but in the big picture, this doesn’t work out so well.
There are thousands of researchers doing intensive and laborious research on the basic science of bipolar disorder and on potential treatments. These people work with federal or state grant money, which entails a time-consuming grant proposal. Being a primary researcher is hard work that doesn’t move quickly and is not all that well compensated. This brings up the relationship between researchers and drug companies – an essential connection, but one that has probably been abused by both sides.
I don’t know how far we are from understanding the underlying brain changes that lead to bipolar symptoms. We will not be able to create different medications and interventions without this knowledge. We have to hash out the science of the illness to move along the science of treatment. I am not confident that a cure is imminent or even a goal in the near future. The model now, based on the science that we do have, is of a chronic condition that will require management over one’s lifespan. Hopefully we will get better and better at managing it, so people can live without symptoms and get their lives back. Many people have excellent responses to current medications, but many more struggle to find the right balance. Research will bring answers, but slowly.
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Last reviewed: 16 Jan 2009