Friday, May 27, 2011

Drug Innovation Continues—For Now

As a small piece of good news, the June 2011 Atlantic magazine has an interesting story, "The Rise of Backyard Biotech".

The article describes how, "Powered by social networking, file sharing, and e-mail, a new cottage industry is bringing niche drugs to market."

We now finally have the tools (including software) to make such niche drugs commercially viable -- a giant step towards the goal of "personalized medicine" where tests and treatments can be tailored closely to fit your individual genome, medical condition, etc.

In many ways, these new drug development ventures are like the small technology startups that led to such innovation and prosperity in the 1990s. However, the pharmaceutical industry is much more heavily regulated than the technology industry.

Would we have seen the same technology boom if there had been a Federal Technology Agency that had regulated Silicon Valley as strictly as the FDA currently regulates the drug industry?

As I noted in my 2010 piece, "The Deadly Tax on Medical Innovation", one of the worst aspects of such regulations is that, "we will never know what new technologies could have been developed and how many lives they could have saved -- an example of Frederic Bastiat's principle of the seen and the unseen. As with any exponential process, small changes in the rate of growth will have a dramatic effect on the final total after twenty years."

And the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest has written a detailed paper describing how new "comparative effectiveness" research could seriously hamper new drug development, resulting in loss of 81 million life years and $4 trillion dollars.

Let's hope that the pace of drug innovation can still outpace the regulatory "drag".