From The Editor | June 17, 2015

Academia Is Pivotal To The Future Of Pharma Innovation

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By Trisha Gladd, Editor, Life Science Connect

innovative R&D and drug development

We all know that biosimilars have been driving several recent M&As (e.g., Hospira) across the industry. And yes, biosimilars, generics, and second-generation drugs all can keep pipelines and pockets full. But you know what they don’t do — offer new treatments or cures for diseases. That requires innovative R&D and drug development, and that’s why I believe academia is even more important to the industry than ever before. For example, Alimta, the compound that eventually became Lilly’s $2.5 billion blockbuster treatment for lung cancer was invented by a chemistry professor at Princeton. Some notable academia-pharma alliances in 2014 show academia remains a respected partner and important resource in drug discovery.  However, unless a university has struck up a deal like these, they will have to find a source for their research funding.

Their main source has always been the world’s leading supporter of biomedical research, the National Institute of Health (NIH). Historical trends of government funding from the NIH show a steady increase over the last 20 years, which should be great news.  However, the cost of conducting biomedical research has actually gone up. When adjusted by the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI), which measures inflation in the biomedical research sector, NIH funding actually decreased 11.4 percent between 2003 and 2010. Devastating budget cuts in 2010 and then sequestration in 2013 resulted in a continued decrease in the NIH’s purchasing power. In 2013, the NIH posted a fact sheet on its site outlining the devastating impact of sequestration on medical research. But it’s clear to me from the decreasing numbers mentioned above that these areas – delays in medical progress and risks to the scientific workforce – were most likely already being affected long before the sequestration.

The implications of a continued decrease in NIH funding could have far-reaching effects for the U.S., which is battling growing competition from the global market. As countries like China continue to invest more and more in R&D, higher education, and workforce training, undoubtedly the U.S. pharmaceutical industry will feel the biggest blow if a dependable source for innovation and discovery like the NIH continues to be weakened.

Last month, House committee members voted unanimously to move the proposed 21st Century Cures Act forward for consideration by Congress. In the newest draft, it’s recommended that the NIH receives $10 billion in extra funding over 5 years. This was met with gratitude and excitement from members of the NIH, but it’s the members of the pharmaceutical industry who should be celebrating the attention this issue is receiving. As voters, you have the ability to act on this issue; as employees of the pharmaceutical industry, you have an obligation. Drugs like biosimilars offer cost savings to pharma companies, but the future lies in what has yet to be discovered. Academia just needs the money to find it.