Innovation Today, Rewards Tomorrow

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-02-02-2010, Volume 34, Issue 2

When it comes to healthcare rform, we must not overlook investment in innovative technologies.

Across America, we have witnessed incredible advancements in healthcare because of the achievements made in science and medical technology. Over the past several decades, advances in medical innovation have allowed patients to defeat debilitating and life-threatening diseases and, at the same time, have contributed significantly to the overall growth of the US economy.

Billy Tauzin

American ingenuity and investment has allowed our country to be a world leader in the scientific and technological domain. In fact, if we were to glance at any history book we'd find many examples of life-changing inventions made on US soil. For instance, we created the Internet, communications satellites, transistors for televisions and computers, and were the first to fly to the moon.

American-based companies were also the first to pioneer many new treatments and cures that have helped millions of patients around the world beat and manage diseases such as cancer and polio.

Great strides in medical innovation have helped heart-disease death rates in America drop more than 34% between 1995 and 2005 and AIDS deaths drop by more than 70% since 1995. Since 1980, life expectancy for cancer patients has increased by about three years, a gain that is mostly attributable to new treatments.

Who would have ever thought that we could live in a world where technology can often prevail over death?


America's pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies lead in global research and development (R&D) for new medicines. In 2008 alone, biopharmaceutical companies invested more than $65 billion to discover new treatments. That investment supported research on more than 2900 medicines in the research pipeline, including more than 1000 medicines to fight chronic diseases, the number one killer and leading driver of healthcare costs in the United States.

We are fortunate that most pharmaceutical R&D takes place in America, providing good jobs for American workers and early access to new treatments for patients. We cannot continue to lead in this area, however, without patient-centered policies in place—policies that encourage innovation and reward the often painstaking process that goes into developing new medicines. It takes an average 10 to 15 years and more than $1 billion to develop a new medication.

According to a recent survey by Intel/Newsweek, 78% of Americans believe innovation will be more important to the US economy during the next three decades than it has been during the past three decades. Other countries such as China and India are inching closer and closer to America's position as the world leader in innovative medical achievements and entrepreneurial ingenuity.

Although everyone benefits from global research, the US also benefits from its position as a leading center of biomedical innovation. To maintain this position, we must continue to smartly invest in innovative technologies in the US and the government must do its part to support policies that foster research in such technologies.

Much attention during the recent healthcare reform debate has focused on healthcare delivery. Although improvements in delivery and cost are critical, so too is medical progress so that our children and grandchildren can benefit from better healthcare and better access to new treatments in the future.

Unfortunately, there are some policymakers who don't always recognize or support the hard work being done in pharmaceutical laboratories across the country. They often don't realize the incredible time, energy, and money that go into the many years of researching and developing medicines that can help patients survive or give them more time on this earth with family and friends.

The fact is, new medicines can often be expensive, difficult, and risky endeavors. For every 5000 to 10,000 compounds tested, only five will make it to clinical trials and, of those, only one is likely to be approved for market by the US Food and Drug Administration. In addition, only 2 of 10 marketed drugs return revenues that match or exceed R&D costs. This is why it is critical that pharmaceutical companies, medical device-makers, and other innovators continue to work on ideas—potential products—that could save lives, without fearing that new policies will make their investments even more risky.

America's biopharmaceutical companies are working to find ways to help make the drug- development process more efficient, less costly, and less risky while also supporting initiatives that complement these efforts. For example, several public-private initiatives could increase the efficiency of drug development and approval. Many of these initiatives fall under FDA's Critical Path Initiative.

What it all boils down to is, that if we really want to revolutionalize the way healthcare is consumed and delivered in America today, and continue our world leadership in innovation, we must be honest about whether we want to create a new generation of thinkers and problem-solvers by investing more in education. We must be honest about whether we want to cure diseases and create advanced technologies that improve the length and quality of life.

One of the greatest modern day scientists, Dean Kamen, once said that it is important that we think of every technology made as a gift from one generation to the next. While these products may be expensive now because of the hefty R&D costs, they will be essentially free for our kids because they will go off patent.

The reality is that such innovation is a gift that can keep on giving but only if we continue to celebrate and reward advancements made in science and technology.

If we want to do what is right for the future of our healthcare, we need a full understanding of all the promise that medical progress has to offer. We must recognize the potential of new discoveries and improvements in science and technology as a way to meet many of the great challenges that lay before us today and tomorrow.

Billy Tauzin is president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), tel. 202.835.3400.