to what advertisements by pharmaceutical companies would have us believe,
"innovation" does not always mean therapeutic advance, far
from it! According to the National Institute for Health Care Management,
for example, the figures provided by the US Food and Drug Administration
reveal that only 15% of new medicines are truly innovative. Most new
products are mere copies or almost copies of those that already exist
and don't really fulfil the needs of patients.
Why is real innovation so rare?
the pharmaceutical sector as in other industrial sectors, the search
for maximum short-term profit and the satisfaction of shareholders
have become the main objectives over the last twenty years. According
to "The Economist" of 13 July 2002, mentioning the American
stockbrokers Lehman Brothers, many medicines are not developed, not
because they are not of therapeutic importance, but because their
projected annual sales would be less than 1 billion dollars. This
being the threshold above which medicines are considered blockbusters.
achieve a two-digit (more than 10%) increase in profits, which is
demanded today by investors, the pharmaceutical firms do all they
can to prolong data protection, shorten the time to registration and
lift the ban on advertising of prescription drugs. When a firm has
put a real and profitable innovation on the market, many firms then
look for a drug of the same "family" to have their share
of the niche. These drugs, the "me-toos", generally do not
provide further benefit and inflate the figure of the 85% of drugs
which are not innovations.
to what would seem common sense, no pharmaceutical legislation and
no medicines agency in the world requests that a new medicine be more
effective or safer than those that already exist. Therefore "new
products" are granted a licence without evidence of any therapeutic
corresponding to real needs must be much more encouraged, which entails
that the pharmaceutical policy should not be hostage to business priorities.
The European legislation must ensure that innovation satisfies public
health needs and is assessed through independent and well-conducted