Pharmaceutical firms “underinvest” in long-term research to develop new cancer-fighting drugs because of the time and expense, according to a new study.
The study, led by researchers at MIT, was published in the July, 2015, issue of American Economic Review.
The researchers found that drugs to treat late-stage cancers are less costly to develop than drugs for earlier-stage cancers, partly because the late-stage drugs extend patients’ lives for shorter durations of time. As a result, the clinical trials for late-stage cancer treatments are completed sooner and provide drug manufacturers more time to control patented drugs in the marketplace.
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Unfortunately, the lack of investment in longer-term drugs resulted in a loss of 890,000 life-years among people diagnosed with cancer in the year 2003 alone.
“There is a pattern where we get more investment in drugs that take a short time to complete, and less investment in drugs that take a longer time to complete,” says MIT economist Heidi Williams, co-author of the paper.
To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed 4 decades of data from a variety of comprehensive sources, including the National Cancer Institute and FDA. The study encompassed over 200 subcategories of cancers detected at different stages of development.
The paper also suggests policy adjustments that might produce more long-term research on anti-cancer drugs. “The public sector is more willing to invest in these long-term projects than is the private sector,” Williams said.
Another policy shift suggested by the researchers is changing the terms of drug patents, which typically run from the time of patent filing, to run from the time when the drug hits the market.