Research scientist debunks a new estimate on R&D expense

Research scientist Derek Lowe has taken to his blog over at In The Pipeline to have some fun with a recent estimate that new drugs are being developed for the bargain-basement rate of $55 million. One of the authors of the study, which was picked up in Slate, has been defending her numbers by saying that they don't include basic research, where you can't get objective figures. It's just for development, responds Rebecca Warburton.

But Lowe isn't having any of it. He not only notes that the study repeatedly refers back to the research side of the equation, he also picks apart their contention that the critical element of research involves understanding the disease and then picking one or two good targets for it.

"And there you have it," writes Lowe. "The critical step is understanding how the disease works, you see, and finding one or two good targets. By that definition, the vast amount of money that gets spent in the drug industry is then non-critical. This is a viewpoint that can only be held by someone who has never tried to discover a drug, or never held a serious conversation with anyone who has."

Developers have poured big bucks into research efforts aimed at diseases that no one understands completely, he adds, pointedly highlighting Alzheimer's as an example. And there are plenty of examples of drugs developed with no clear mechanisms or targets. Writes Lowe: "These are the sorts of things we do around here in between having meetings to decide what color the package should be, and right after we do that thing where we all jump around in rooms knee-deep in hundred-dollar bills. Exhausting stuff, that money-wading."

- here's the blog post from Derek Lowe