James Moore: Drug makers in a fix as new treatments fall short

Outlook: Ouch. TC-5214 has tipped up. AstraZeneca is facing up to the failure of yet another drug from its already limited looking pipeline of new treatments.

The experimental antidepressant has failed its latest clinical trials and will be dropped at a $50m (£31m) cost. Disorders of the brain are proving tough to treat, largely because our understanding of that rather crucial organ is not really at a sufficiently high level to allow drug makers to develop remedies for its many maladies.

And it isn't just the brain. The same is true in many fields of medicine and so there will be many more TC-5214s to come. As patents run out and generic drug makers get to work on their reliable earners, the giants of the pharmaceutical world are having to grapple with a number of unpleasant dilemmas. Research is becoming increasingly risky and expensive and that is not a message that shareholders like to hear.

Astra is not alone in having a weak-looking pipeline and finding a cure for this isn't going to be easy.

So far the only potential treatment the industry's leaders have found is buying up rivals. But that is no magic bullet. Not only is it extraordinarily costly, it also usually comes with any number of unforeseen and nasty side-effects.

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