May 22, 2008 / 3:09 AM / 11 years ago

Researchers see flood of "brain-boosting" drugs

LONDON (Reuters) - A flood of new “brain-boosting” drugs will emerge in coming decades for diseases like Alzheimer’s, putting pressure on authorities over the drugs potential misuse for non-medical purposes — such as helping students cram for exams, scientists said on Thursday.

“The use of psychoactive drugs by patients and health individuals will become an increasing feature in all our lives,” said Gabriel Horn on Thursday.

Horn, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, chaired the group that issued the report on the drugs that act on the brain to the British government.

The study from the Academy of Medical Sciences said the government would have to deal with the likely increase of “brain-boosting” drugs that may improve short-term memory or speed of thought.

While the drugs might help people with neurodegenerative diseases, mental illness and addiction, such treatments could also prove popular among the public for non-medical purposes, such as studying or staying alert at work, they said.

“We must act now to harness the opportunities offered by advances in brain science to treat and prevent disease, but also to reduce the harms associated with drug misuse and addiction,” Horn said.

One way to do this would be to ensure there is adequate funding for research into the safety and effectiveness of these new compounds, the researchers said.

The Academy of Medical Sciences considers the social and policy implications of the potential recreational and medical uses of these drugs.

Current psychoactive drugs, sometimes used as “brain boosters”, include treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as Ritalin, or methylphenidate, made by Novartis AG and others. Another is modafinil, the active ingredient in Cephalon’s narcolepsy medicine Provigil.

“Drug companies are very interested in this area,” Les Iverson, a researcher at the University of Oxford who worked on the report, told a news conference. “What we are flagging is this is a very active area of research and we should be prepared for a number of new drugs in the coming years.”

The need is even more acute when it comes to addiction, given the government spends some 15 billion pounds each year to deal with drug-related social and economic costs of abuse, the researchers said.

The problem is that scientists now have a better understanding of how addiction works in the brain but not much research has translated into better treatments, they said.

“Research funders and the pharmaceutical industry must be encouraged to see addiction as a priority area and to develop more innovative treatments,” Horn said.

Editing by Maggie Fox and Matthew Jones

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