When we consider some of the diseases and conditions that require new treatments, such as dementia, muscular degenerative disease or brain tumours, in each of these cases, companies are investing for the long haul. Discovery can only proceed at the speed of science, so companies look at investing not only in themselves but in partnership with others, together advancing basic and applied science that will unlock new opportunities for the development of treatments.
The losses are sometimes breath-taking, with companies having to deal with the financial fall-out whilst seeking to learn lessons about how to approach the next challenge. It is this capacity for persistence over the long run which underpins the value of the private sector in R&D and specifically in drug discovery and development.
Any candidate medicine begins with the research and investment in discovery research to understand the disease biology, target identification and validation, proof of principle and proof of concept efforts for a lead compound, followed by refinements of the lead compound and pre-clinical safety testing. These candidate treatments are then explored in clinical settings to establish how best to further develop and then use these valued treatments. However, the journey from idea to implementation of a treatment for care is fraught with considerable scientific uncertainty and risk, and most ideas never make it through to a patient, although they do play a role in the progress of science.
It takes a long time to make this journey, on average 10 to 12 years, with clinical trials alone taking six to seven years on average. Overall, it was estimated that the research-based pharmaceutical industry collectively spent nearly $156.7 billion on R&D in 2016.