As the industrial age has given way to the age of information, so the current drug development system needs to move toward an open, collaborative, and coordinated approach that holds promise for bringing more medicines to market quicker and less expensively, seven stakeholders concluded in a commentary published today.
Writing in Science Translational Medicine, the seven proposed a model for drug development that envisions a set of interconnected processes rather than a straight-line path from lab to trials to patient. Each process within the Navigating the Ecosystem of Translational Sciences (NETS) model is part of a greater whole, much as systems biology may entail study of molecules, cells, organisms, or entire species.
“Drug development needs a sustainable system that requires and rewards precompetitive collaborations with well-aligned incentives that benefit all participants,” the co-authors concluded, before acknowledging: “Enacting these dramatic changes, however, will not be simple and will require that we make equally dramatic changes to the incentives and reward structure that drives drug development.”
The co-authors cited SEMATECH, through which about manufacturers carrying out about half the world’s semiconductor production work with partners—equipment and material suppliers, universities, research institutes, consortia, start-up companies, and government—on precompetitive collaborations designed to accelerate development of new technologies in less time while controling costs.
NETS or some variation thereof would likely be similar to SEMATECH in some ways, Sharon F. Terry, the commentary’s corresponding author and president and CEO of the Genetic Alliance, told GEN.
In drug development, as with semiconductors, industry has long operated through silos (think disease), has long sought to preserve the status quo despite declining returns, and faces pressures to change. While semicon makers have scrambled to regain competitiveness lost to Japan, today’s biopharmas are scrambling to make up revenue lost, or set to be lost, as blockbusters lose patent protection and give way to smaller-revenue niche drugs.
Terry also identified a key difference that biopharma will need to overcome: “For some reason, the urgency to stay competitive was stronger and more tangible than the urge to find treatments for suffering individuals. Perhaps because in the case of the semiconductors, there loomed a cliff, while in the case of health, the sick are with us always. We forget [the need for treatment] is urgent, until it is our loved one.”
Terry similarly called for a systems approach to bridging gaps that hinder drug development, in a 2010 paper published in Genetic Testing and Molecular Biomarkers, a journal published by GEN publisher Mary Ann Liebert Inc.: “Genetic testing and molecular biomarkers are ripe candidates for being part of the solution.”