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Where Innovative Medicines Come From


“Who are the originators of innovative medicines in the EU?” – this was the title of a press release from theEMA last week, examining the origins of new medicines in the EU. It was inspired by a recent article in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, authored by EMA staff, which found that over 40% of the innovative medicines recommended for marketing authorization in the EU between 2010 and 2012 originated from small or medium-sized enterprises, academia, public bodies and public-private partnerships.

For me, this confirms something I’ve discussed before on this platform – the changing landscape in R&D. We can no longer work in silos, with each pharma company looking only to the inside, if we are to successfully tackle the complex healthcare problems that remain. Tough challenges remain – cancers, HIV, neurological disorders, various chronic illnesses – and we will need to collaborate to overcome them.

The good news is that the industry is taking steps towards such collaboration in the interests of improving R&D outcomes and delivering real results to patients. Collaborative efforts such as the EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative are producing great success stories – and these are efforts are now being mirrored in the creation of similar public-private partnerships that hope to duplicate IMI’s success. For instance, the National Institutes of Health recently joined forces with ten major drug companies to advances studies in Alzheimer’s and Diabetes, among other areas – for more on the significance of that public-private partnership, see thelatest blog from Magda Chlebus, EFPIA Director of Science Policy. It’s also become increasingly common for major drug companies to team up to tackle such tough disease areas. We are also seeing more input into external resources, as major companies look increasingly to small biotechs and independent research labs to see what creative thinking is taking place there.

My emphasis on creative thinking might seem odd. After all, R&D is a science – it requires a precision, exactness, and a logical approach. Hypothesis, test phases, conclusions. Because of this, a lot of people think there is no room for creativity in R&D. I disagree. Successful R&D often requires us to think outside of the box. We see this, for instance, when a certain molecule tested for treatment of one indication fails – but turns out to be a solution for a different problem. Maybe the hypothesis failed the first time, but the creative scientific mind can still see options for this molecule, a way for it to improve healthcare and patient’s lives.

Underpinning all of this is my belief that a combination of curiosity, creativity and competition will bring the best results. The way we approach R&D requires curious minds and creative thinking. As to competition, I come back to the role of IP as the incentive for private investors to put their money on the best bet. IP is an enabler, not a goal in itself. Finally, we need openness – openness to new ideas, new ways of working, and new collaborations with different people. The success of less traditional approaches of innovation is becoming clear, as the recent news from EMA shows. In my mind, there is no doubt that this is the path we must continue on.

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EFPIA Director General

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