Funding new medicines

jaynelawrenceby Professor Jayne Lawrence, RPS Chief Scientist

Without pharmaceutical science, we would have no new medicines. Neither would it be possible to improve existing medicines, or understand how we could better use our existing medicines.

Those working in pharmaceutical science play a pivotal role in the discovery, design, formulation, manufacture, regulation and use of medicines with the ultimate goal of improving the health of patients.

The challenges and opportunities faced when creating new medicines, improving existing ones or ensuring the better, safe use of medicines are set out in New Medicines, Better Medicines, Better Use of Medicines, a new guide to pharmaceutical science published today by the RPS.

We are now developing treatments which will revolutionise health care because they will cure diseases rather than just offering relief from the symptoms of them.

Increasingly, new medicines and treatments will be tailored to our genetic profile, meaning we will get medicines that work best for us as individuals, rather than the current ‘one size fits all’ approach.

If new medicines are to be tailored to our specific needs, then the current model of paying for medicines needs to be updated.

At the moment, pharmaceutical companies discover and develop medicines which are aimed at treating large groups of patients on a long-term basis. Through global sales of these medicines, the companies recoup the tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds they spend on researching and testing them, and make sufficient profit to fund the development of new drugs and medicines.

The way the market is currently set up means it’s not profitable for companies to invest in developing medicines and treatments for much smaller groups of patients, who may only use them on a short-term basis, or even just once.

The current crisis in antibiotic resistance is in part an example of market failure. We desperately need new types of antibiotics, yet no there have been no new types developed since the late 1980s. The financial incentives to develop new antibiotics are weak because antibiotics cure infections quickly, so the volume of sales is low, making it hard to make the money invested back on them.

We need to find ways for the NHS to cope with funding treatments which have a high initial cost, but don’t require a lifetime of use by patients, or else only treat a sub-section of the population. Unless this happens, we will not see the kind of breakthroughs that both scientists and patients want.

Even now, there are problems with the market for medicines. If a pharmaceutical company develops a new medicine there is no certainty that it will get approval from the regulators or NICE . It’s estimated to cost between £50 million to £1 billion to develop a medicine – and even if it is successful in gaining the necessary approvals there is no guarantee that market sales will recover the cost of its development.

We need a change.  We need the organisations that regulate medicines to come together with those that pay for them, and the scientists that develop them, to find new ways of working to accelerate both clinical and commercial success and provide patients with the medicines that they deserve.