New thinking needed to fund new medicines: RPS

Scientists are calling for “a new covenant” to be developed between the pharmaceutical industry and wider society to accelerate and incentivise the development of tailored treatments.

So claims a report from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society which highlights both the advances ahead as well as the limitations of current business and funding models. Jayne Lawrence, the RPS’ chief scientist, notes that “we are living in an incredibly exciting age, where the human genome is being decoded and scientists are examining how we can cure diseases rather than just offer symptomatic relief”.

However, she argues that the market is not set up to incentivise new types of medicines, noting that the crisis in antimicrobial resistance is in part due to the lack of new classes of antibiotics. The latter “can cure infections in weeks, so the volume of sales of drugs is low. This doesn’t allow the tens or even hundreds of millions required for R&D to be recouped”, Prof Lawrence notes.

She went on to say that “we need the NHS to be able to cope with funding treatments which have a high initial cost but may not require a lifetime of use by patients. Unless we find a way to develop treatments that cure illnesses in months, rather than treat symptoms for years, we will not see the breakthroughs that both scientists and patients want.”

Richard Bergstrom, director-general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, added that “there is a lot of excitement in my industry about all the targeted medicines that are in the pipeline. However, there is also concern that the regulatory requirements and way forward for developing new drugs are not clear”.

He argued that “we need the regulators to move with the science and update their guidelines as our understanding of disease changes. We have a duty to deliver the new science to patients as quickly as possible [and] both regulators and organisations that pay for drugs need to come together and jointly consider what evidence should be developed”.

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