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Computer algorithms can tell apart the drugs that provide effective pain relief from ineffective placebos, Oxford's Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain has found.

More than 90% of central nervous system drugs fail when they're tried in large human trials.

The team at the Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain (FMRIB) hope that combining information from many brain imaging studies with their computational methods will provide a cheaper way of filtering out drugs that are not likely to work, without the need for expensive human clinical trials.

Many drugs, such as those for pain relief, work on the central nervous system: they cross into the brain and directly affect its function. But drug effects are often subtle, and the same drug can have varying effects on different people.

There is a great need for markers that can help to prioritise and direct drug research prior to full-scale clinical trials. - Dr Eugene Duff

As a result, it is difficult to work out whether a new drug is likely to be effective enough to justify further development: testing it in many people takes time and is expensive. The study, led by Eugene Duff, included more than 130 people, and is published in Science Translational Medicine.

Read more on the University website...