Truth is, Science is Expensive

Understanding the Science Behind Drug Discovery

01.09.14 | By Dr. William "Bill" Chin, M.D.

Earlier this week, Scientific American published an excellent blog post by chemist Ashutosh Jogalekar with the cheeky title, “Why drugs are expensive: It’s the science, stupid.” In his well-informed commentary, Jogalekar describes an issue that has faced industry for some time: The science of drug discovery is difficult and expensiveand it’s not getting any easier. And yes, this costly science impacts the price we all pay for our medicines.

The reality is that biology is complex and the countless variables that must be considered make the process of discovering new medicines particularly difficult. We simply don’t know what causes most diseases or why patients with virtually the same diagnosis respond differently to the same therapy, manifest variable symptoms and progress with or without complications. As a result, biopharmaceutical companies and its many partners in the drug discoveryand development ecosystem are constantly looking at ways to improve our understanding of biology and the process for bringing new medicines to patients. They do this through advanced analytics, collaboration with regulatory agencies, academic and government researchers and patient engagement, just to name a few ways.

While the science sometimes results in seemingly high costs, it’s important to place these costs in the proper context, including the immeasurable value medicines bring to patients’ lives and the role medicines play in our health care system overall. Today, innovative medicines are helping transform HIV and cancer into treatable conditions, reducing the impact of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and fighting even the rarest conditions. In fact, a new report from the American Cancer Society reveals that the cancer death rate fell by 20 percent between 1991 and 2010, thanks in part to medicines.

In order to maintain this innovation engine and advance the health of patients throughout the world, it is vital that our society in general and our healthcare system in specific understand how medicines are created and continue to encourage companies to pursue the expensive and risky work of tackling the complexity of human disease.

As always, we welcome your feedback and comments.


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