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Cancer drugs can be more affordable, claim scientists

A new business model that would see academics team up with generic drug makers could be the solution to escalating cancer drug prices.
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A new business model that would see academics team up with generic drug makers could be the solution to escalating cancer drug prices, scientists have claimed in the journal Cell.

The spiralling cost of new drugs mandates a new approach to keep cancer therapies affordable, said authors Paul Workman, Giulio Draetta, Jan Schellens and Ren Bernards.

What is urgently needed are mechanisms to encourage scientific and therapeutic innovations that will allow cancer patients to access new treatments at affordable and sustainable prices, they wrote.

The report recognises the expenses that larger pharmaceutical companies incur, ranging from the cost of failed trials to the hefty salaries for senior management. It also cites a finding from The Tufts Centre for the Study of Drug Development that estimated the average cost of drug

A new business model that would see academics team up with generic drug makers could be the solution to escalating cancer drug prices, scientists have claimed in the journal Cell.


The estimated average cost of drug development is currently $2.5 billion. Picture: iStock

The spiralling cost of new drugs mandates a new approach to keep cancer therapies affordable, said authors Paul Workman, Giulio Draetta, Jan Schellens and René Bernards.

‘What is urgently needed are mechanisms to encourage scientific and therapeutic innovations that will allow cancer patients to access new treatments at affordable and sustainable prices,’ they wrote.

The report recognises the expenses that larger pharmaceutical companies incur, ranging from the cost of failed trials to the ‘hefty salaries for senior management’. It also cites a finding from The Tufts Centre for the Study of Drug Development that estimated the average cost of drug development at $2.5 billion.

Opposing interests 

Professor Workman and his co-authors suggested the commercial interests of big companies were ‘diagonally disparate’ from the ‘typically idealistic motivation’ of academics.

But they said academics chose to work with big companies because centres of learning did not have the ability to market and produce drugs, meaning researchers often lose control of pricing. 

‘Given that generic drug makers are used to working with lower profit margins, they may be one potential partner to develop highly innovative but de-risked drugs from academic drug discovery and development.

‘As a result, the prices of such drugs can be far lower than we have witnessed recently.’

Shared expertise

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s head of science policy Rebecca Lumsden said she welcomed new model proposals, but remained sceptical.

‘Globally, our industry invests around £88 billion a year into research and development for innovative new treatments in diseases including cancer, with £4.2b of this spent in the UK. The pharmaceutical industry routinely collaborates closely with partners in academia, the NHS and charities, particularly for early drug discovery. By working together, we share expertise and risk as potential new medicines move through the stages needed to bring it to patients.

‘However, the reality is that drug discovery and development remains a considerable scientific challenge, even with our increased understanding of disease. Robust regulation to protect public health establishes quality, safety and efficacy of new medicines, but also drives up the cost. All these steps require considerable investment and expertise.’


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