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Expert Opin Drug Discov. 2011 Jun 1;6(6):597-617.

Can Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Improve Success Rates in CNS Drug Discovery?

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  • 1Center for Pain and the Brain, MGH, McLean and Children's Hospitals, Harvard Medical School And Merck Research Laboratories.



The bar for developing new treatments for CNS disease is getting progressively higher and fewer novel mechanisms are being discovered, validated and developed. The high costs of drug discovery necessitate early decisions to ensure the best molecules and hypotheses are tested in expensive late stage clinical trials. The discovery of brain imaging biomarkers that can bridge preclinical to clinical CNS drug discovery and provide a 'language of translation' affords the opportunity to improve the objectivity of decision-making.


This review discusses the benefits, challenges and potential issues of using a science based biomarker strategy to change the paradigm of CNS drug development and increase success rates in the discovery of new medicines. The authors have summarized PubMed and Google Scholar based publication searches to identify recent advances in functional, structural and chemical brain imaging and have discussed how these techniques may be useful in defining CNS disease state and drug effects during drug development.


The use of novel brain imaging biomarkers holds the bold promise of making neuroscience drug discovery smarter by increasing the objectivity of decision making thereby improving the probability of success of identifying useful drugs to treat CNS diseases. Functional imaging holds the promise to: (1) define pharmacodynamic markers as an index of target engagement (2) improve translational medicine paradigms to predict efficacy; (3) evaluate CNS efficacy and safety based on brain activation; (4) determine brain activity drug dose-response relationships and (5) provide an objective evaluation of symptom response and disease modification.

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