Scottish Brain Sciences

A few years ago a senior UK academic in mental health stated gleefully to his colleagues: “It’s boom time in industry!”  I was reminded of this statement when reading this news report in the Herald, 21 May 2023: Dementia expert Professor Craig Ritchie quits NHS job.

Professor Ritchie now heads up this commercial company:

Scottish Brain Sciences repeatedly describes itself as a  “community” and invites you or a relative to join. Whilst it is acknowledged that the principle financial stakeholder is the pharmaceutical industry very few details are actually given.

I have written the following response as a comment to the news report in the Herald:

I read this news article with interest. I worked in NHS Scotland for over 25 years as a psychiatrist for older adults. I retired in 2020. A significant part of my job was in the diagnosis and management of dementia.

It is not unusual for press releases on “medical advances” to present a somewhat one-sided interpretation of research findings. Benefits are often highlighted whereas risks and unforeseen consequences receive less attention. Perhaps this is not surprising when such press releases come from organisations with a financial interest in promoting their services. In medical journals there is no consistent requirement to make competing interests fully transparent. Newspapers therefore can hardly be blamed for providing their readership with incomplete information but I am still disappointed that such a skewed narrative has been provided.

Prof Ritchie is quoted in this news report as saying: “We understand the disease, we understand what is going on in the brain”. I disagree with this emphatic statement and fully support research to elucidate disease pathways further. However to present it as a deficiency of NHS Scotland that current “anti-amyloid” treatments are not being made widely available fails to recognise that tax-payers money should only be spent on interventions with a much more robust research basis behind them than can currently be claimed for the drugs that Prof Ritchie seeks to promote in his private business venture. As well as suggesting possible benefits, trials sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry have shown that “anti-amyloid” drugs can have significant adverse effects. Furthermore, without further research the potential longer term effects are unknown.

It has always been in the interest of the commercial sector to present a narrative that focusses on factors likely to increase their potential market. Limited information is presented with a certainty that the current science cannot justify. This is not new nor is the reticence to be fully open about the financial interests of the individuals involved. This is a post that I wrote five years ago:  Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly