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Why Do New Drugs Cost So Much? January 7, 2018

Posted by geoff in News.

Here’s one reason:

Pfizer Inc is abandoning research to find new drugs aimed at treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the U.S. pharmaceutical company announced on Saturday.

The company said it expects to eliminate 300 positions from the neuroscience discovery and early development programs in Andover and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Groton, Connecticut, as it redistributes the money spent on research, according to the emailed statement.

Alzheimer’s has a huge potential market, if one can find the right drug. This has led to hundreds of drugs being proposed and evaluated. Unfortunately:

A recent study looked at how 244 compounds in 413 clinical trials fared for Alzheimer’s disease between 2002 and 2012.

Of those 244 compounds, only one was approved. The researchers report that this gives Alzheimer’s disease drug candidates one of the highest failures rates of any disease area – 99.6%, compared with 81% for cancer.

Since that study in 2012, every other Alzheimer’s drug trial has failed as well, including many high-profile drugs that had entered Phase III testing.

As we all know, taking a drug through development, trials, approval, and production/marketing is a costly endeavor:

Across the industry, per drug programme, Tufts calculated nearly $1.4bn in out-of-pocket costs…

So some empathy with drug developers is in order, particularly when even the huge financial incentive of a large ready-made market can’t keep major players from giving up.


1. geoff - January 7, 2018

Dummy comment so I can see post.

2. lauraw - January 7, 2018

Your name doesn’t get posted to the Recent Comments list on the sidebar, for your first comment on a post. I noticed it the other day on your last post.

I’ll check after hitting post right now, if your comment then shows up there.

3. lauraw - January 7, 2018

Yup, your comment only shows up on the sidebar after somebody else comments. Weird.

Very crummy news in the post, geoff. I kept hearing they were on the brink of a breakthrough.

4. geoff - January 7, 2018

Well it turns out there are three major problems with Alzheimer’s research in particular:

1) It has been very hard to see inside the brain, and PET scans, which are starting to get good, are very expensive. So until recently, research has been conducted with the brain as a black box, which is a painful way to develop an understanding of disease processes and drug effects.

2) There are 3 proteins that seem to be involved: amyloid beta, tau, and TDP-43. The prevailing theory was that amyloid beta was the cause of all the problems, but recently it’s turned out that tau is the real issue. Nobody’s yet taking TDP-43 seriously, which I think is a mistake.

3) The mice used to simulate the disease don’t do a very good job. Every week you hear, “researchers cured Alzheimer’s!!” but it’s always in mice. When they get to the Phase II or Phase III trials (which take forever and cost a bundle), they find that the cure for mice doesn’t do squat for humans.

5. geoff - January 7, 2018

Your name doesn’t get posted to the Recent Comments list on the sidebar, for your first comment on a post.

I’m the Keyser Söze of WordPress.

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