New attention disorder could equal a big new ADHD drug market. But is it legit? Read more: New attention disorder could equal a big new ADHD drug market. But is it legit?

Posted on May 1, 2014 in Autism, Heavy Metals, Medical Rewind, Technology

There could be a new attention disorder on the block in the future–one that could open up a new patient pool for ADHD drugmakers Eli Lilly ($LLY), Shire ($SHPG) and others. But with pharma critics adept at pointing fingers at companies for “disease-mongering,” it’s one that could open up a new round of controversy, too.

The potential new disorder, dubbed sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) and characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing, could be on its way to recognition as a legitimate condition, The New York Times reports. The condition could be a boon to drugmakers, with some estimating that 2 million children are affected by the disorder.

Eli Lilly, for one, is already looking at what it can do for SCT patients. The company recently funded a clinical trial investigating whether its ADHD med Strattera could treat the disorder, with researchers concluding, “This is the first study to report significant effects of any medication on SCT,” the Times reports.

And with STC potentially sharing several symptoms with ADHD, other products for the latter disorder–like Shire’s Adderall XR and Vivanse, Novartis’ ($NVS) Focalin and Concerta from Johnson & Johnson’s ($JNJ) Janssen unit–also may be able to make the jump.

But promotion of SCT before more research is done–scientists haven’t even agreed on a symptom list yet–could lead to unnecessary diagnoses and prescriptions, the same problems that have brought ADHD overtreatment into the spotlight.

UCLA associate psychology professor Steve Lee

“The scientist part of me says we need to pursue knowledge, but we know that people will start saying their kids have it, and doctors will start diagnosing it and prescribing for it long before we know whether it’s real,” Steve Lee, an associate psychology professor at UCLA, told the Times. “ADHD has become a public health, societal question, and it’s a fair question to ask of SCT. We better pump the brakes more diligently.”

ADHD is not the only condition for which pharma treatment has come into question. Drugs for restless leg syndrome have faced their fair share of criticism, and some have questioned financial ties between pharma and the authors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which dictates the list of disorders for which drug companies can market therapies.

But ADHD in particular has faced a deluge of scrutiny in recent years, with some, like Lee, saying it encompasses too many children whose problems stem from other, non-neurological causes.

As the NYT notes, some papers have proposed that recognizing SCT would combat that problem, helping certain non-hyperactive ADHD patients receive better diagnoses; perhaps one million of the two million projected STC patients are currently misclassified, they note. But others are against putting more children on drugs like Adderall and Concerta, which can carry risks ranging from insomnia to addiction.

“I have no doubt there are kids who meet the criteria for this thing, but nothing is more irrelevant,” Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus psychiatry professor at Duke University, told the newspaper. “The enthusiasts here are thinking of missed patients. What about the mislabeled kids who are called patients when there’s nothing wrong with them? They are not considering what is happening in the real world.”

– read the NYT piece (sub. req.)