the personal views of a doctor in industry

Blockbuster Drugs and Innovation

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Sir James Black is a nobel prize winner for medicine and inventor of both propranolol (at ICI) and cimetidine (at Smith Kline and French). In an era when entire R&D divisions of big pharmaceutical firms have trouble coming up with a single drug of this caliber, a man credited with two of them must be taken seriously.

In a fascinating interview with the FT (An acute talent for innovation), he noted that we are an industry with “a reputation for development” but that “it keeps making promises”. I found this rather revealing in an elegantly understated way.

Our reputation for discovery is a deserved one. It talks to our past where significant headway was made against significant diseases. The interesting part is that Sir James feels that today we keep making promises that we do not keep. He is, in part, talking about the inflated sales projections for some of our pipeline products.

To emphasize just how off base our predictions can be, Sir James points out that the sales forecasts for propranolol and cimetidine (£250,000 and £5m respectively) were actually off by orders of magnitude. I know of another drug that was off by three orders of magnitude. Clearly even when we have a drug ready for market, even when it is in fact of the caliber to be a blockbuster, industry can be fairly clueless.

According to Steven Paul, President at Lilly Research Laboratories (WSJ, Big Pharma R&D: Things Are Tough All Over), only one in eight drugs in phase II trials will make it to market. It does not need pointing out that making it to market is no guarantee of commercial success. The idea of prospectively making bold predictions based on such unlikely bets is odd, both in the sense that otherwise intelligent people make them, but more so perhaps that nobody notes that this is daft.

As Sir James notes, “very few of the drugs classified as blockbusters retrospectively were designed in that way.”


Written by Pillhead

February 15, 2009 at 7:12 am

Posted in Pipeline

Tagged with , , ,

One Response

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  1. […] at Lilly Research Laboratories the chance of getting from phase 2 trials to market is 1 in 8 (Blockbuster Drugs and Innovation) – I cannot find the ph1 attrition […]

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