Drugs companies ‘are putting profits ahead of medical discoveries’, claims hard-hitting report

  • For every £1 spent on basic research a  whopping £19 is spent on marketing, claim experts

  • Current reward system discourages  innovation, they add

PUBLISHED:10:13 EST, 8  August 2012| UPDATED:11:08 EST, 8 August 2012

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The pharmaceutical industry is in crisis  because companies are rewarded for developing new drugs that have few clinical  advantages over existing ones, experts say.

Writing in the British Medical  Journal, Professor Donald Light from the  University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Joel Lexchin from York  University in Toronto, say this has discouraged innovation for the past five  decades.

They pointed to independent reviews that  found between 85 and 90 per cent of all new drugs developed over the past 50  years have provided few benefits and considerable harms.

Has the pharmaceutical industry lost its way? Professor Light and Mr Lexchin say profits have been given priority over innovationHas the pharmaceutical industry lost its way? Professor  Light and Mr Lexchin say profits have been given priority over  innovation

They said most  research funds don’t go  towards finding breakthrough drugs but towards developing scores of minor  variations that  produce a steady stream of profits. Heavy promotion of these  drugs can  account for up to 80% of a nation’s drug spending, they add.

The duo warn  that companies exaggerate research and development costs to lobby for more  protection from free market competition. Yet, according to an independent  analysis, the 1.3 per cent of revenues devoted to discovering new molecules  compares with an estimated 25 per cent spent on promotion.

This means for every £1 spent on basic  research a whopping £19 is spent on marketing.

Professor Light and Mr Lexchin said urgent  changes needed to be made to make the industry focus on more cost effective and  safer medicines.

They said the first step should be to stop  approving so many new drugs of little therapeutic value.

‘EU countries are paying billions more than  necessary for drugs that provide little health gain because prices are not being  set to reward new drugs in proportion to their clinical value,’ they  say.

 They also believe that regulators should be  publicly funded and that new ways of rewarding innovation should be considered.

‘This approach would save countries billions  in healthcare costs and produce real gains for people’s health’, they  conclude.

In a second paper, researchers from the  London School of Economics said drug manufacturers should be made to demonstrate  that  their products are superior to existing treatments.

However, Stephen Whitehead, chief executive  of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: ‘We strongly  disagree with the claims made in these papers.

‘Medical research has always rested on  iterative and gradual innovation rather than breakthrough advances which are  very rare. If it were not for the incremental improvements made in the treatment  of HIV, the disease would still be terminal rather than a manageable long term  condition.

‘The pharmaceutical industry’s medicines  pipeline is promising with many new treatments in development. But the discovery  of medicines is an increasingly difficult process as the cost of research and  development continues to rise and regulation becomes more onerous. In 2012, it  costs on average over £1 billion to develop a new medicine and takes between 12  and 15 years to develop

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2185437/Drugs-companies-putting-profits-ahead-medical-discoveries.html#ixzz23E8fr0cN