Public Sector Plays Big Role in Drug Research

Role of public-sector research institutions larger than previously thought

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Public-sector research institutions (PSRIs) appear to play a bigger role in drug discovery than was previously thought, contributing to the discovery of about 10 to 20 percent of drugs approved for new drug applications since 1990, according to research published in the Feb. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

To investigate the role of the public sector in the applied-research phase of drug discovery, Ashley J. Stevens, D.Phil., of the Boston University School of Management, and colleagues classified drugs and vaccines newly discovered by PSRIs and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by therapeutic category and potential effect.

The researchers found that 153 FDA-approved drugs, vaccines, or new indications for old drugs were discovered in the last 40 years through PSRI-driven research. These included 93 small-molecule drugs, 36 biologic agents, 15 vaccines, eight in vivo diagnostic materials, and an over-the-counter drug. The majority of these drugs have been used in cancer and infectious disease treatment or prevention. The authors note that drugs discovered by PSRIs are expected to have a disproportionately large therapeutic effect and that research by the public sector has had a more immediate effect on improving public health than was realized previously.

"Our data show that PSRIs have contributed to the discovery of 9.3 to 21.2 percent of all drugs involved in new-drug applications approved during the period from 1990 through 2007. These proportions are higher than those identified by some earlier researchers," the authors write.

One author disclosed being an expert witness in patent infringement and other intellectual property legal matters involving several of the products included in the study.

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