The Single Biggest Reason we need Big Pharma Drug Discovery
“I’m sorry we have done everything we can do…there is nothing left to try.”
Nobody wants to hear these words, especially as it relates to our health or the health of a mother, father, son, daughter, close relative, or friend. Most of us have had people in our lives who have heard these words. From what should be simple to treat infectious diseases to the complexities of cancers and physically debilitating, if not lethal diseases like Alzheimer’s, there remains a huge medical need for effective and safe new treatments. Too many people hear these helpless words today and even more may hear them in the future as the population ages with increasing life expectancy.
We have seen how financial rewards can drive decision making and behavior in the pharmaceutical industry but really… not wanting to hear these words should be the single biggest reason pharmaceutical companies continue to invest heavily in drug discovery research.
It starts with a mindset to discover truly innovative new drugs that are better than what we have available and that can treat diseases we can’t treat today. It is frightening that the industry has spent so much in the last decade to deliver so little in terms of innovation. Think about the billions of dollars spent on clinical trials just to get “me-too” drugs to the market. It is equally frightening to think of the cash being spent on mega-mergers and acquisitions to source near-term products to fill the depleted late stage pipelines. Neither of these contributes to bringing innovative new products to the market that wouldn’t otherwise have come to market. I’m also not sure how long biotech can support the drug discovery needs of Big Pharma before that well runs dry.
I believe the current “product driven mentality” of many Big Pharma company executives today (and Wall Street analysts) is blinding these companies to the long-term solutions to finding truly innovative new products. I have said it before. Drug discovery is hard work and getting harder. It is going to take a much deeper, multidisciplinary understanding of human biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and pathophysiology of diseases that most companies only think about once they have a potential therapeutic target or drug candidate in hand (most likely acquired from outside the company in most recent history).
I believe this comprehensive approach to drug discovery is where Big Pharma should be making significant investments. Choose a therapeutic area of interest. Find, recruit, and collaborate with world class scientific and medical expertise in that therapeutic area. Invest in an exhaustive understanding of the disease, explore beyond the known, and challenge common principles of disease management. Don’t just look for a compound, look for a comprehensive approach to treating and possibly curing the disease.
Big Pharma is one of the few place with sufficient resources to fund, coordinate, and execute this comprehensive approach over a long period of time. I am not suggesting universities and biotech companies won’t continue to be a great source of novel, innovative new drug candidates. In fact, much of the necessary drug discovery expertise now resides in academia. At the same time however, I am concerned with Big Pharma moving away from drug discovery and relying on universities and biotech as their primary sources of innovative new products. Why?
Because… I don’t want to hear… “I’m sorry we have done everything we can do…there is nothing left to try.”