Mind to Market

Friday, January 26, 2007

New Funding Sources for Drug Development

In Sharon Begley's column Science Journal in today's WSJ she discusses the difficulties in bringing therapeutic technologies generated in academic research to the market. Because pharmaceutical companies require large returns to justify their investment and risk in drug development they are understandably reluctant to fund the development of a drug that has a small market. Although there are many obstacles to translational research; bringing laboratory research results to the patient in need, financial barriers may be one of the most significant. As in all technology transfer, if the numbers don't work it is difficult for a for-profit drug company to get approval for drug development.

So this is where the non-profit research foundations are now stepping in. Foundations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation and Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy who have been active sponsors of basic research in the past, are now stepping up to fill the gap left by drug companies unwilling to fund some or all of the drug development process. This is a new world for these foundations that have developed administrative systems geared more for dealing with academic institutions than with private pharmas.

Nonprofits may be filling the translational research gap for drugs specific to their disease of interest, but the issue of small target markets for drugs is not limited to rare diseases; this is the future of pharmaceuticals. The day of the blockbuster drug is over and the day of personalized medicine has dawned. In order to improve medical outcomes, drugs will become more targeted, thus decreasing their potential markets. Pharmaceuticals will have to adopt to this new paradigm or face a continually diminishing pipeline of blockblusters.

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