Innovation Happens, Even If You Can't See It

Innovation Happens, Even If You Can't See It

01.13.12 | By Kate Connors

This morning, I was speaking with fellow blog contributor Jeff Trewhitt - who himself credits a medicine with saving his life when he was diagnosed with a very rare cancer - about how the biopharmaceutical sector is seen as not being innovative anymore.

As Jeff pointed out, that view is wrong - in reality, companies are more innovative than ever before.

This conversation flipped a switch in me. It hit me that, in a sense, the sector has become a victim of its own innovation. As Dr. Alesci noted the other day, gone is the model of companies emphasizing development of medicines that will treat huge patient populations - the so-called blockbuster drug. When those medicines launched, they garnered significant attention in the press, among patients, among healthcare providers, and more. It's pretty common to know someone who's taking one of those medicines, after all.

Now, companies are using emerging science and technological advances to understand lesser-known diseases, study smaller patient populations, and identify respondent sub-populations.

That work takes serious innovation. Groundbreaking innovation, the likes of which simply couldn't have been done ten years ago, let alone a generation ago. The problem, I surmised, is that it's so innovative, people don't know about it.

Jeff's hairy cell leukemia, for example? That doesn't get a lot of attention. Most people have probably never heard of the chemotherapy that saved him, and most people don't know someone who has or had the disease. But that chemotherapy took as much development, dedication, and investment as any blockbuster you can imagine - perhaps more.

It's something I think I'm going to try to keep in mind going forward. I speak with people at PhRMA's member companies who are brilliant, enthusiastic, and determined - and who spend their lives trying to put together the puzzles of drug development in innovative ways. They deserve credit, and so do the companies.

What recent or ongoing innovations can you think of?

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