More Money Alone will not Increase Pharmaceutical Research Innovation?

While it is hard to argue that you don’t need money to discover innovative new treatments for all the complex diseases that continue to cause illness, disability, and even threaten life.  At the same time, Big Pharma has shown that merely throwing money at discovery research won’t necessarily deliver the results you might expect.

As evidenced by many academic researchers and their teams, it is possible to discovered relevant disease targets and disease altering compounds with far fewer research dollars than Big Pharma has been spending over the past three decades.  Big Pharma R & D budgets, however,  are a misleading indicator of investment in innovation.   In other words, when Pharma holds out the total amount they are spending on R & D ($68 billion), you have to know that only about 30% of that is for discovery and preclinical research.  Still billions of dollars for a disappointing drug discovery return on investment.

Here is another way to look at pharmaceutical innovation productivity.  Let’s say the average Big Pharma has a $1 billion per year to spend on drug discovery and preclinical research.  How do you think that compares to what academic labs (or start up biotechs for that matter) have to spend on discovery research?  Maybe a couple million dollars they have secured in government grants?  Yet, dollar for dollar, who’s delivering the innovation? And why?  An increasing number and percentage of innovative new drugs are being discovered in government or government funded public laboratories.

While they may have less money to work with, academic labs have three essential ingredients that increase the probability for innovative drug discoveries;  expertise, time, and a passionate focus for a comprehensive understanding of the science behind their work (e.g., disease, pathophysiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology).

This is not to say that all Big Pharma researchers lack these essential ingredients.  But even if they do have them, these attributes are mitigated by the distractions of organizational expectations, bureaucracy,  and time pressures to deliver compounds rather than understanding the science.  Perhaps most importantly, expertise in Big Pharma is often rewarded with more work (projects, administrative duties, or increased management responsibilities) that removes (mitigates) the expertise, or at least the focus of the expertise, from the day to day work of discovery research.

Sure, more money can facilitates innovative drug discovery but without expertise, time, and a passionate focus on the science, don’t expect to fill your pipeline.    mike@pharmareform.com