The fruits of Research and Development, or R&D, can add years to life, and life to years. An investment in R&D is an investment in patient wellbeing. In 2011 alone, the industry invested €27.5 billion in research and development in Europe. The new research has enabled us to make progress in areas such as personalised medicines, orphan drugs and biologics – notably biologics using monoclonal antibodies, laboratory-produced molecules engineered to attach to specific defects in cancer cells. Biological drugs have been developed for such serious illnesses as cystic fibrosis and asthma. Investment in R&D also has a positive economic impact: Research initiatives nurture collaboration among diverse stakeholders, from SMEs to academia, create new jobs in Europe, and can help reverse the European “brain drain”.
European pharmaceutical companies manage the R&D process from a molecule, where it is identified as a potentially suitable medicinal product, to a medicine, where it is licensed and available for a doctor to prescribe to their patient. This can take up to 13 years and is a long, expensive and complex process, necessary to ensuring medicines meet the standards of quality, efficacy and safety.
Investment into R&D has always been essential to improving the wellbeing of patients. Without it, we would not have the treatments that help patients now – and would have no new medicines in the future. Today, investment in R&D is more imperative than ever, as scientists and researchers have conquered many of the low-hanging fruits of innovation and are tackling some of medicine’s more complex challenges: cancer, diabetes, HIV, and more.
These are complex problems requiring complex solutions. We already have seen success in the cases of personalised medicines for certain breast and skin cancers. Such personalised medicines offer unique treatments developed on the basis of a specific tumour’s molecular makeup and the patient’s normal tissue. The R&D processes required to develop such treatments are complicated, costly, and time-consuming – but the benefits are worth the investment, as we are already seeing.
Looking at the big picture, R&D in the pharmaceutical industry is moving towards open innovation, embracing increased collaboration and expertise sharing. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is one example of this, as a public-private partnership bringing together diverse stakeholders across the EU, from patient groups to academics. Such collaborative models have spread among several EU countries, and most recently to Japan, with the establishment of the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund.
It can take up to 13 years to take a medicine from its origins as a molecule to a treatment with tangible benefits for patients. A look at the many steps needed to complete this process can help explain why it is so time-consuming.
An overview of the R&D process makes it clear just how difficult it is to develop effective new medicines that patients will benefit from. When looking at the many steps described here, also consider this:
For every 25,000 compounds that begin in a laboratory...