The medical community certainly spends a lot of time and money researching treatments for cardiovascular disease and cancer. It’s not hard to understand why, as these two diseases were the two leading causes of death in the U.S. in 2010. However, researchers and science advocates are cutting themselves short if they don’t realize another serious threat exists in the U.S.: mental disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, an estimated 26.2% of adults aged 18 and older, nearly 63 million people, will suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. These diseases range from more moderate mental illnesses — those that lifestyle changes and medicine can help relieve — to the more severe mental illnesses that affect 6% of the population.
Today, I propose to look at the three most commonly diagnosed mental disorders courtesy of Discovery and see what, if any, medications are being used to counteract or lessen the effects of these disorders. Ultimately, 63 million people represents a huge patient subset, leaving plenty of opportunity for big pharmaceutical and biotech companies to make a meaningful quality-of-life impact.
1. Mood disorders
The most commonly diagnosed of all mental disorders is mood disorder, which affects about 21 million adults in the United States. Included in mood disorders is major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.
Major depressive disorder is by far the most common, affecting nearly 15 million people, and is the leading causing of disability for people aged 15-44 according, to the NIMH. It’s also more prevalent in women than in men. You will find nothing short of a couple of dozen possible treatments that can be used to help fight clinical depression, with none standing out more than Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY)‘s Cymbalta, which was a $5 billion drug for Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) in 2012 and accounted for 22% of its total product sales. However, its patent on the drug is set to run out in the fourth quarter of this year and will almost certainly open up the door for a slew of branded and generic competition.
Also known as dysthymia, dysthymic disorder is a state of prolonged chronic depression that often has symptoms that are less severe than major depressive disorder. It affects a tad more than 3 million people in the United States. The most common treatment for dysthymia is a combination of antidepressants — usually a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor such as the now generic Lexapro, developed by Forest Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE:FRX) — and psychotherapy. This is actually great news for patients, because nearly all SSRIs are now off patent (Lexapro lost its exclusivity last year), making them incredibly cost effective.
Bipolar disorder is the final mood disorder characterized by major shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function, and it affects roughly 6 million people in the United States. Similar to dysthymia, medication and counseling are the two most common therapies used to keep this long-term disease in check. Perhaps one of the best-known treatments is Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)‘s Risperdal, which has long since gone to a generic form and is now manufactured by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:TEVA).
If you take away anything from mood disorders, it should be that generic drugs rule the roost. Mood disorders are in desperate need of newer treatment options, but most big pharmaceutical companies lose any incentive to enter the fray when large generic competitors such as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:TEVA) offer treatments for a fraction of the branded drugs’ cost. Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:VNDA) was the latest to try its luck with major depressive disorder but failed in phase 2b/3 trials, when tasimelteon didn’t hit its primary endpoint. Until further notice, generic-drug makers such as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:TEVA) are your best investment bet when it comes to mood disorders.