A record 313 new medicines to treat mental health disorders are now being developed by US pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, says a new industry report.

All 313 new products are either in clinical trials or awaiting review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to the study, which is produced by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Discussing the enormous economic cost of mental disorders, the study points out that such illnesses, including suicide, account for over 15% of the burden of disease in established market economies, which is more than the disease burden caused by all cancers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from a mental health disorder, while in the USA, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in four of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, and a study funded by the NIMH has revealed that serious mental illnesses cost the US more than $317 billion annually in lost wages, health care expenditures and disability benefits.

The industry group notes the enormous breakthroughs which have already been achieved through the use of medication; for example, drugs to treat depression are helping thousands of people to live productive lives, while breakthrough schizophrenia treatments enable most patients to be treated in the community rather than institutional settings and medicines for Alzheimer’s disease are helping elderly people maintain their independence longer, it says.

The list of 313 new products currently in R&D includes: - 71 for depression (mood disorders), which affects nearly 21 million Americans; - 33 for addictive disorders, including dependence on alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs; - 38 medicines for anxiety disorders, affecting more than 40 million US adults aged 18 and older; - 90 for dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, which affects over five million Americans; and - 54 for schizophrenia, which strikes some 2.4 million American adults each year. Other potential medicines target attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, eating disorders, personality disorders, premenstrual disorders and sleep disorders.

Tackling various types of dementia, which rob so many people of their independence and even their own identity, is a high priority, and researchers are using cutting-edge technology to develop therapies to delay or even reverse the ravages of dementia, says Ken Johnson, senior vice president of PhRMA. For example, one product currently in R&D seeks to remove beta amyloid protein from the brain to prevent or even reverse progression of Alzheimer’s disease, while another is being tested as a potential treatment for the various symptoms associated with schizophrenia, with diminished incidence of the side effects common with current treatments.

The US Alzheimer’s Association estimated recently that if a new treatment that delayed onset of the condition by five years was available in 2015, the health care system could save $170 billion by 2030. Adds Mr Johnson: “success by even one of the 90 drugs being researched for dementia would reduce an untold amount of suffering by patients and their families - such treatments can also save the health care system billions of dollars, especially as baby boomers age.”