The Impact of Biopharma on our Current Understanding & Treatment of Mental Health

Throughout history, mental health has been stigmatized and treated in inhumane ways. Learn how the biopharma industry has made a huge difference in the way we understand and treat mental illness.

Table of Contents

Historical Treatment of Mental Health

Historically, individuals dealing with mental illness and mental health disorders have been treated inhumanely. In medieval times, signs of mental illness were often treated as signs of witchcraft and possession. This led to tens of thousands of deaths resulting from inhumane treatment, or from executions of those accused of practicing witchcraft. 

As medical treatment options slowly became available, they often resulted in dangerous side effects, or even death. One early treatment was trepanation, which was the process of removing a small part of the skull. The hope at the time was that it would provide space for any “demonic presence” to exit the brain. During the American civil war, the average survival rate of these cranial surgeries was 46%-56%.

One of the most infamous non-pharmaceutical treatments was the lobotomy, which actually won a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1949. A lobotomy was conducted by surgically severing the connection between the frontal lobes of the brain and the prefrontal cortex. This treatment often led to new impairments and serious side effects. The operation itself had a mortality rate of 14%. Due to the high risks and arguable unethicality of the procedure, lobotomies were largely discontinued in the 1950’s when psychiatric medication began to be more readily available.

Other historical treatments included asylums, insulin coma therapies, metrazol therapy, isolation, and bloodletting.

Mental Health Statistics

Approximately 46.6 million adults in America experience mental illness yearly, which is one in every five adults, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Within that group, nearly 9.5% of Americans 18 and older will suffer from a depressive illness, and 18% will experience an anxiety disorder. 

With these climbing numbers and new barriers to treatment being broken everyday, we have seen an overall decline in stigma in recent years. According to CNN, 90% of Americans who participated in a survey reported that they equally value their physical and mental health.

Modern Mental Health Treatment: 1950 to Now

Although we have made leaps and strides from some of the original methods of treating mental illness, advancements and accessibility for effective pharmaceutical solutions did not take off until the 1950s with practices in psychopharmacology. 

In the early 19th century, physicians at asylums and institutions commonly used sedatives and hypnotics, although they noted that these methods rarely treated the mental illness itself. Knowing that these solutions hardly counted as treatment, chlorpromazine was developed in 1950, which marked the beginning of an era of psychopharmaceutical advancement, and the start of modern treatment.

Chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic, was the first synthetic drug of its kind. Antipsychotics are typically utilized to treat bipolar disorders and schizophrenia, although their use can sometimes extend to treatment of other mental health disorders. It was developed by the French biopharmaceutical company Rhône-Poulenc.

Iproniazid, the first synthetic antidepressant, was introduced shortly after in 1958 by Hoffman-La Roche. Interestingly, it was originally used for tuberculosis treatment. With the introduction of haloperidol (butyrophenone antipsychotic), clozapine (atypical antipsychotic) and benzodiazepines, the 1950s included the development of at least one agent for all of the modern psychotropic drug major classes.

Following the development of these major building blocks in the 1950’s, there have been many life-changing biopharmaceutical developments to mental health treatment, including sertraline, which was prescribed around 38.22 million times in 2025. Sertraline, commonly known as Zoloft, was developed by a team of researchers for Pfizer.

Other treatments that ranked in the top 25 prescribed psychopharmaceuticals of 2020 include escitalopram (Lexapro) and Bupropion (Wellbutrin) which are both used to treat depression, amphetamine (Adderall), used to treat ADHD, and fluoxetine (Prozac), which is used to treat panic disorder and depression. Prozac was launched in 1988 by major biopharma industry company Eli Lilly.  

Treatment Outside of Psychopharmaceuticals

In addition to psychopharmaceuticals, we have also developed many more effective, humane treatments for mental illness in modern day. One common non-medicine treatment is CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a form of psychotherapy which involves talking with a trained professional in structured sessions to become aware of common thought patterns, and working to overcome patterns that are affecting you negatively. Psychotherapists provide tools and coping mechanisms. 

Other treatments include support groups, brain stimulation therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), interpersonal psychotherapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy, with more treatments being developed every year.

A Promising Future for Mental Health Treatment

In addition to the treatments listed above, the biotechnology industry continues to push new trials, therapies, and other solutions to improve our capabilities for treating mental illness. According to PhRMA, there were over 160 new medicines in development across biotech and biopharma companies to target common mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar, substance abuse disorders, and many more. 

Some companies of note in the biotechnology and biopharma space that are making major developments in treatments for mental illness include atia Life Sciences and Compass Pathways. With multiple mental health companies under their umbrella, atia Life Sciences leverages their decentralized platform approach in order to accelerate the development of treatments that address the unmet needs of those suffering from mental illness.

Compass Pathways is taking a similar approach, developing treatments for those who are currently untreated. Most notably, they have been working on a new model of psilocybin treatment called COMP360, which the FDA granted a breakthrough therapy designation. 

In addition to companies developing new treatments in-house, some of the larger companies in the market are also approaching mental health treatment by acquiring smaller organizations with targeted research. An example of that is Bristol Meyers Squibb’s acquisition of Karuna Therapeutics in 2023. The medicine that Karuna is currently developing is on track to potentially be passed as a new schizophrenia treatment by September of this year, which would be the first new form of antipsychotic to enter the market in decades.

Looking for Mental Health Resources?

There are a variety of useful mental health resources available whether you are struggling with a mental illness yourself, or someone you love is suffering.

For support and educational resources, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, which offers publications and reports, helpline services, support groups and more. For additional resources, visit the National Institute of Mental Health

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, consider calling 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

For more information on HPNE’s efforts to support our employees during and beyond Mental Health Awareness Month, visit our previous article “Supporting Mental Health Awareness Month”.

Share article

About HPNE

As the industry needs grow, High Purity New England, Inc. continues to supply the biopharmaceutical industry with a range of innovative products, from drug discovery and development to fill-finish, including their flagship product, custom single-use assemblies, as well as pumps, sensors, bioreactor systems, storage and handling solutions and other single-use solutions. Along with their own manufactured products for the global market, they are also a distributor for more than 18 brands in North America.

Latest Blog Posts