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Bio-Geeks, Rascal Flatts and the Broken Road to a Cure

Bio-Geeks, Rascal Flatts and the Broken Road to a Cure

Over at Forbes, reporter Matt Herper offers some troubling stats on the economics of drug development:

Only one of 10,000 drugs the pharmaceutical industry invents makes it to market; of those that start clinical trials, at least 9 of every 10 don’t work or aren’t safe. The result: Vast sums are spent for every success. The number of new medicines invented per billion dollars of research money is halved every 9 years, an inexorable slump that Bernstein Research European drug analyst Jack Scannell has dubbed Eroom’s Law—the opposite of the computer industry’s Moore’s Law.

The good news: The larger story focuses on pharma giant (and MJFF partner) Sanofi's efforts to revitalize translational medicine. Led by Elias Zerhouni, the former NIH director who coined the term "valley of death" to describe the resource vacuum between basic discovery and clinical research, Sanofi is striving for nothing short of "transform[ing] the way drugs are developed":

His real—and far less publicized— goal was to create a framework for what bio-geeks call “translational ­medicine,” the process of turning NIH innovations into drugs that industry can use. “We have been making huge advances in knowledge, but we failed to translate that to patients,” he says.

MJFF research partner and bio-geek Chris Coffey, who flagged this article for us, says: "I’m actually optimistically surprised that [Herper's piece] implies at least a 1 out of 10 chance of success for something in the clinical trial setting. I suspect that number is lower in neurology. It seems that neurological diseases are some of the most difficult to understand and treat.

"To put a positive spin on it," Coffey continues, "there are advantages to finding that drugs don’t work. It allows the field to move on to look at other treatments – and increases that chances that something will eventually be found to work. It’s like the line in a country song by Rascal Flatts: 'God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.' Finding a treatment or a cure is a journey. There may be setbacks on that journey, but we learn from each setback and (hopefully) come out stronger in the end."

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