Making a difference in neuroscience


Nervous system diseases are a major public health challenge and, combined, one of the largest causes of disability worldwide.

Ahmed Elhusseiny, Therapy Area Head Neuroscience and Rare Diseases and Paulo Fontoura, Global Head Clinical Development, Neuroscience share their insights on developing medicines with the potential to transform people’s lives.

How is Roche approaching neuroscience research and development?

Ahmed Elhusseiny (AE): Neuroscience is a challenging area for drug development, but we learn more with each study. We are gaining a better understanding of the underlying biology of nervous system disorders.

At Roche, we are focused on four important areas in neuroscience: diseases that cause progressive nerve damage (neurodegeneration); diseases that cause abnormal development of the nervous system (neurodevelopment); psychiatric disorders; and pain.

Key diseases include multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and autism spectrum disorder.

Paulo Fontoura (PF): All our focus areas share similarities, for example strong genetic risk factors. We are looking at diseases that have a combination of unmet medical need and specific biological targets that can be addressed with medicines. The combination of unmet need, defined targets and following the science will help us succeed over the long term.

Ahmed Elhusseiny, Therapy Area Head Neuroscience and Rare Diseases and Paulo Fontoura, Global Head Clinical Development, Neuroscience

Why is Roche pursuing these disease areas?

PF: For me, the brain is the most important organ of the body. It makes us who we are. It is what defines us as human beings, and therefore, diseases of the brain fundamentally change who we are. We don’t have Alzheimer’s dementia; we become someone with Alzheimer’s.

Diseases of the nervous system are very personal, and they are also very common. Everyone knows someone affected by one or more of these conditions -- like dementia, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, or others. Tragically, this is combined with a real lack of efficacious medicines available to help these people. Combined, nervous system disorders are a major global health issue, and one of the biggest causes of disability worldwide.

AE: Just look at this one statistic: Worldwide, there are about 700 million cases of mental and neurological disorders reported annually. Globally, untreated mental disorders alone account for 13 percent of the total disease burden. In addition to the direct impact on patients, these conditions have dramatic effects on families, carers, communities and society as a whole. That’s why Roche is committed to the area of neuroscience. We want to make a difference.

What gives you and your teams the confidence to continue your work in neuroscience?

PF: Neuroscience is not for the faint of heart. It is very hard to do and takes a lot of effort and persistence. But if you keep asking the right questions, doing the right trials and developing the right molecules, one can succeed. Roche has shown that we can tackle difficult diseases like cancer. It takes a long-term perspective, and that is something we are good at as a company. We have a history of translating biological insights into transformational medicines for people with difficult-to-treat diseases, and we are determined to do so again in neuroscience.

AE: We are confident in our science and our people. We have some of the most motivated and talented people across the industry working at Roche. We have always said neuroscience would be hard, but we are building a broad and deep knowledge base that will be the foundation for future therapies.

Impact of nervous system diseases

An estimated 700 million cases of mental and neurological disorders are reported worldwide annually.


  • 2.3 million live with multiple sclerosis
  • 7–10 million have Parkinson’s disease
  • 24 million live with schizophrenia
  • 46 million live with dementia
  • 350 million reported an episode of depression

Tags: Science