“Why Are So Few Blockbuster Drugs Invented Today?”

“Of course, an overreliance on genomics is not the only factor slowing down the discovery of new drugs, as industry analysts are quick to point out. One challenge is that the industry is the victim of its own previous successes. In order to thrive, it must come up with drugs that work better than blockbusters of the past. After all, old drugs don’t fade away; they just go generic. Scannell and Warrington have dubbed this the “Better Than the Beatles” problem, as if every new song in the recording industry had to be bigger than “Hey Jude” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
At the same time, the demand for proof of safety and efficacy, not only from the F.D.A. but also from trial lawyers and the public at large, is far higher than in years past. The days when drugs like the original insulin could be sold within a year of their discovery by chemists are long gone, and rightly so. To check the industry’s slide, experts say that drug companies need to begin applying the new molecular engineering tools to old-fashioned methods of discovery. It may sound absurd to describe the newfangled nanoengineering that Zion used to develop smart insulin as “old-fashioned,” but his fundamental approach is one that researchers from the 1950s would recognize. It is inductive, beginning with a close observation of chemicals and their behaviors in living systems, to then making tentative hypotheses and then going through a long tinkering process of trial and error to find something that works. The spirit that animates the trial-and-error chemists is an enthusiasm for constructing new drugs piece by molecular piece, like children playing with building blocks.”

(credit to SG)

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