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Barriers to Alzheimer Disease Drug Discovery and Development in Academia

Van Eldik, Linda J.#*; Koppal, Tanuja#*; Watterson, D. Martin*†

Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders: 2002 - Volume 16 - Issue 0 - p S18-S28

The drug discovery and the drug development processes represent a continuum of recursive activities that range from initial drug target identification to final Food and Drug Administration approval and marketing of a new therapeutic. Drug discovery, as its name implies, is more exploratory and less focused in many cases, whereas drug development has a clinically defined endpoint and a specific disease goal. Academia has historically made major contributions to this process at the early discovery phases. However, current trends in the organization of the pharmaceutical industry suggest an expanded role for academia in the near future. Megamergers among major pharmaceutical corporations indicate their movement toward a focus on end-stage clinical trials, manufacturing, and marketing. There has been a parallel increase in outsourcing of intermediate steps to specialty small pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and contract service companies. The new paradigm suggests that academia will play an increasingly important role at the proof-of-principle stage of basic and clinical drug discovery research, in training the future skilled work force, and in close partnerships with small pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. However, academic drug discovery research faces a set of barriers to progress, the relative importance of which varies with the home institution and the details of the research area. These barriers fall into four general categories: (1) the historical administrative structure and environment of academia; (2) the structure and emphasis of peer review panels that control research funding by government and private agencies; (3) the organization and operation of the academic infrastructure; and (4) the structure and availability of specialized resources and information management. Selected examples of barriers to drug discovery and drug development research and training in academia are presented, as are some specific recommendations designed to minimize or circumvent these barriers. In some cases, precedents established by other disease-focused areas may be relevant to Alzheimer disease and related disorders, but the overall impact of any changes requires adaptation at the top of the administrative structures in academia and funding agencies to support and encourage cooperative efforts among faculty investigators.

#Departments of Cell and Molecular Biology, †Molecular Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry, and *Northwestern Drug Discovery Program, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

Research in the L.J.V.E. and D.M.W. labs is supported, in part, by NIH grants AG13939 and AG15501, and by grants from the Alzheimer's Association and the Institute for the Study of Aging. T.K. was supported by NIH training grant AG00260. The resources cited in this article are not exhaustive, are intended as examples only, and do not represent an endorsement of any particular vendor.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Linda J. Van Eldik, Northwestern University Medical School, Dept. of Cell and Molecular Biology, Ward 4–202, 303 E. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611–3008, U.S.A.; e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.