Reports from the 51. ACNP Congress — III. Is this Really Translational Research?

At the 51st Congress of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), 2nd – 6th December 2012 in Hollywood, Florida, in the first of three poster sessions 214 posters were presented. It was alarmingly difficult, yet to find posters, which did not report on animal studies, but had obtained clinical, human data. About two-thirds of the posters reported on animal experimental data. The number of posters, which reported on clinical drug trials was even more frightening: eight! The two still following poster sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday will be similar. This trend that has emerged in the past few years continues: Clinical Research in ACNP plays almost no role anymore. This is evident not only in the poster sessions, but also in the symposia (called panels). The number of predominantly clinically oriented symposia can be counted on one hand, only one is in my opinion purely clinical (a symposium on the major changes the DSM-V, to be published in May 2013, will deliver). The interesting thing is that, nevertheless, all the research that is presented here, is called “translational”. The number of presentations, which explicitly present “translational” models for mental disorders, is in the dozens. However, most of the scientists who propose these models have never seen a real patient. Often they do not even know of what they speak about. The lack of understanding between preclinically working scientists and clinicians seems to have become larger rather than smaller in recent years. Few clinicians really understand the models that are submitted by the preclinical researchers in ever greater numbers and in greater and greater complexity. The Congress of the ACNP also documents that research funding in the US flows to an increasingly large part to preclinical and animal research. Whether this development will lead  to better, more specific drugs with less side effects in the future is completely unpredictable. Real clinical researchers  are indeed present at the meeting, but they hardly have a voice. From my perspective, it is time for rethinking “translational” research, which provides more space for clinical research. CNS research in the pharmaceutical industry will not overcome its current serious crisis, if it only develops preclinical models for mental disorders and tests their drugs on these models. I am convinced that a new drug should be tested very early in small clinical trials in patients, and its biological effects have to be characterized with the different methods available today.

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