NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Drug Development is Drying Up

April 5, 2004

Nearly a decade ago, the head of a giant pharmaceutical firm warned that drug makers were not developing novel therapeutic agents sufficient to sustain themselves. Global research has doubled since 1991 -- but the number of new drugs emerging each year has fallen by half.

Creating a drug is difficult:

  • The process takes about 15 years and costs upwards of $900 million dollars.
  • Only one in 1,000 compounds makes it to human trials.
  • Only one-in-five ultimately become a drug.

Critics charge that the industry may be passing up a diversity of less-profitable drugs in their quest for the few blockbuster drugs whose sales exceed $1 billion per year. For instance, the top 200 drugs target a total of only 47 genes.

Another problem, say critics, is that drug companies were too fast to turn their back on older research methods of drug development in favor of new narrower practices using automation. A blend of automation with science offers advantages.

Source: "Fixing the Drug Pipeline," The Economist, March 13-19, 2004.


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