A healthier brain for a healthier life
Science and education go hand in hand in promoting mental health. Danish brain science pharmaceutical leader Lundbeck invests heavily in both to effect real change.
Diseases in the brain can be as debilitating as any serious illness in other parts of the body. But longstanding stigma and widespread misunderstanding have resulted in most suffering from mental illness not being properly diagnosed and treated. Lundbeck, a world leader in the field, has made it their mission to educate the public and medical practitioners on mental health in order to make a significant difference to human life.
Founded by Hans Lundbeck in Copenhagen in 1915, Lundbeck began its foray into psychiatric drugs in the 1950s. In the past 70 years, the company has transitioned into a specialist in the central nervous system, creating products for psychiatric and neurological disorders including depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
The company dedicates a major part of their profits to scientific research. The Lundbeck Foundation was set up in 1954 by Grete Lundbeck, widow of the late founder, that holds 70% of Lundbeck’s shares. In addition, 16% of Lundbeck’s sales also goes directly back into R&D.
“We are a research-based company that has developed a wealth of knowledge and competence in psychiatric and neurological disorders. Since basic research is integral to the advancement of new medicines, yet it is very expensive and there will be inevitably many failures. That is why we have to think long term where we want to spend our efforts,” said Morten Bryde Hansen, Managing Director, South East Asia of Lundbeck.
“Lundbeck is proud that over the years we have developed many products that are helping many people, including products that we no longer produce ourselves because they were developed a long time ago and patents have expired, but other companies are producing them, which is great as long as people are benefiting from them,” he added.
Lundbeck’s Hong Kong office was opened in 2000 and has since engaged in public education programmes on mood disorders and brain diseases, in addition to its core pharmaceutical business. Patty Poon, Country Manager HKSAR of Lundbeck, has recently been honoured at the Greater Bay Area Outstanding Women Entrepreneur Awards for her achievements in business and beyond.
She dedicated this honour to Lundbeck for giving her the opportunity to work on the various public education programmes in Hong Kong and also Greater China, where a shortage of doctors and widespread ignorance and stigma mean more efforts are needed to tackle mental illness as well as post traumatic stress disorder caused by major natural disasters such as earthquakes.
Promoting awareness among the public and medical professionals
Poon said that even doctors can have the wrong ideas about mental illness. Just like many among the public who equate mood disorders to psychosis, a lot of general practitioners consider it beyond them to treat patients with mental illness.
“However, it is mostly GPs who get to see these patients first, as they would come in complaining about insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite or focus, or even physical pain. So if these doctors can make the correct diagnosis, they can prescribe medication or treatment, or make referrals to specialists in serious cases. Mood disorders like depression are very common and should be considered the same way as any physical illness,” she explained.
Many people are skeptical about drugs like antidepressants for fear of side effects and addiction. However, this is a very dated idea since new medicines that work by restoring serotonin levels have proven to be very effective and safe, while allowing patients to go about their daily life normally.
Poon said: “The idea of addiction is also very flawed, because ironically many people like to reduce their dosage when they feel better, which they really shouldn’t do without consulting their doctor, but that shows that the drugs are in fact, not addictive!”
To share the latest developments on treatments, Lundbeck regularly invites leading brain science specialists to hold seminars for doctors, and works closely with local medical institutes and NGOs. Free public talks at the Central Library are also organised to give the public access to local specialists and answer any questions that they may have.
Hansen has worked for Lundbeck for 32 years, including the past seven years in Asia. He said that while stigma for mental illness still exists in Europe, the need for better education and awareness is even greater in Southeast Asia. Hong Kong’s well developed healthcare system makes it a prime location for regional symposia to be held here, where Lundbeck would invite renowned international psychiatrists as well as local experts as speakers to talk to medical professionals from around the region.