Recent research by a team of scientists at Birmingham University in central England has dismissed fears that British patients might have to cope with a shortage of drugs. These concerns have been fueled by previous studies suggesting that the number of new drugs available to patients on the domestic market is declining.
The latest study, published in the BMJ Open journal, found that such warnings were unjustified and that in fact the trend is in the opposite direction, with pharmaceutical companies turning out more new drugs on the UK market over the last three decades. The study drew on data from the British National Formulary guide on drugs and the number of new drugs introduced between 1971 and 2011.
On average, each of those years saw the launch of just under 23 new medicines but there was a substantial difference between the lowest number recorded (nine) and the highest number of drugs introduced in a period of 12 months, which reached 34. There was a notable dip in the number of new drugs recorded between 1998 and 2006 but the average number started increasing again after that. Researchers have concluded that in recent years there have been 16 more new drugs produced annually than back in the 1970s. The Birmingham University team of researchers claimed that previous studies on the matter have focused on much shorter periods of time, which perhaps has led to the wrong conclusion that the number of new drugs has been dwindling.
Still, it would be unfair to say that the development of the UK pharmaceutical industry is not hindered by various obstacles. The biggest challenges for businesses are soaring costs for research and development, as well as the length of time required to actually launch a new drug on the market, the researchers commented, as quoted by the BBC.
Dr. Derek Ward, leader of the research team, noted that the pessimism shared by a large part of the UK pharmaceutical industry was the main reason for starting the analysis in the first place. He explained that the slight increase in the number of new drugs available is good news for patients as they are given more options to be successfully treated in a more competitive market environment.
His view was shared by Dr. Phil L'Huillier, from Cancer Research Technology, part of the Cancer Research UK charity, who pointed out that the results from the research were encouraging. Even though the cost of developing drugs is rising, there are great opportunities for innovation in British drug development and production, he said. Pharmaceutical companies which have teamed up with academia for discovery and development of drugs are set to benefit from a dynamic change of the market. Scientific organizations are involved in the high-risk early phase of drug discovery, whereas companies take the responsibility in financing the later stages of development.
Meanwhile, L'Huillier announced that Cancer Research Technology had launched a £50 million ($75.5 million) fund to encourage investment in drug discovery in the UK, with the main purpose to support early-stage drug discovery and development and bridge the gap between the lab experiment stage and clinical trials to prove the drugs can be beneficial to patients.