Over at Scientific American‘s The Curious Wavefunction blog, Ashutosh Jogalekar has an informational series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) about how difficult discovering and developing new pharmaceutical drugs can be. It’s a risky and expensive business.
The pharma industry certainly has a PR problem, much of it well deserved in some respects, and one way to improve that image might be for the general public to know more about the way that drugs are discovered and studied. The process of creating a new pharmaceutical takes roughly ten years to get from science being done in a lab to a medicine being taken by a patient.
The “pipeline” looks something like this:
Discovery –> preclinical study –> clinical trials –> regulatory approval –> sales and marketing
The further one gets along this line (the closer one gets to money coming in) the more public missteps the pharma industry seems to make. All those multibillion dollar fines that we read about in the news come from the sales and marketing end of the business, mostly related to promoting drugs for medical uses which do not have regulatory approval. If the industry could make the public more aware of the successes – and failures and risks – associated with the left hand side of that line, it might be able to make some inroads into improving its public image.