Saturday, September 27, 2008

Drug Prices and the Cost of Research and Development

This Wall Street Journal interview conducted last year with Genentech CEO Arthur D. Levinson, Ph.D. is worth reading, "How Genentech Wins at Blockbuster Drugs". Here's an excerpt:

WSJ: How do you balance the high cost of innovation with the pressure to cut cancer-drug prices?

Dr. Levinson: Since 1976, when our company was founded, the biotech industry has lost $90 billion in aggregate. I think it's the biggest money-losing industry of all time. It is hemorrhaging. There are some exceptions: We are doing well, and Amgen is doing well. But for most of the 1,300 to 1,400 companies -- 300 or 400 of them public -- this is a money-losing enterprise.

You don't just crank these drugs out. My lab cloned a portion of the breast-cancer gene in 1982. And we started making antibodies to it in the mid-'80s. Then we got cell-culture results in the late '80s and by the early '90s we were getting animal results. And then approval was in December '98. So this goes back a long, long time. Unless these companies can get a return, we are not going to get the new medicines that are making such a difference to patients' lives right now.

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