I never believed it was entirely fair that Eli Lilly was the target of vicious attacks regarding its anti-psychotic drug, Zyprexa. For one thing, many psychiatrists found, and still find, it to be effective. The significance of the drug's association with diabetes and weight gain was often downplayed, not just by Lilly, but by the doctors who prescribed it, often because they felt that the risk was greatly outweighed by the gain. Schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder are difficult to treat, and since many of the established treatments carry the horrendous irreversible risks of tardive dyskinesia, blindness or other side effects, Zyprexa's risks may seem acceptable by comparison.
I was concerned that the fallout would stymie Lilly, keep it from innovation, from spending the multiple millions it takes to bring along new promising treatments. After all, who could blame the company for being gun-shy?
So it is with much applause that I noticed the early success in trials of its new class of anti-psychotic drugs. LY2140023 seems to be safe, and at least as effective as the older class of drugs, the dopamine-blocking neuroleptics.
The new drug is being developed by Dr. Darryle Schoepp, a toxicologist and pharmacologist who has been around the labs at Lilly since the late 1980s. Schoepp has been working with the drug's effects on the glutamate receptors in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for personality, emotional memory and learning. Those who routinely criticize drug companies often fail to mention the many great bench scientists, whose important discoveries depend on the resources and continual support of their employers.
Whether or not LY2140023 becomes the next great anti-psychotic drug in clinical practice, Lilly deserves to be congratulated for developing it. After being hit in the head with a pitch, the company is dusting itself off and stepping right back up to the plate.
Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear