Right Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription: New Medical Research Center

Back in June, I argued that the most significant economic event of the past decade was “the failure of the Human Genome Project to  thus far deliver medically significant results.”  I was soundly attacked at that time by all sorts of people, some of  arguing that I was an idiot because there was plenty of innovation in the biosciences, and others arguing that I was an idiot because biosciences didn’t matter that much.

Now NIH has woken up and realized that the research breakthroughs in genonomics have not translated into cutting edge medicines. But rather than address the real problems–including excess regulation at the FDA–the decision was made to create a new government agency in competition with the drug companies. From today’s NY Times piece.

The Obama administration has become so concerned about the slowing pace of new drugs coming out of the pharmaceutical industry that officials have decided to start a billion-dollar government drug development center to help create medicines.

<snip>

Creating the center is a signature effort of Dr. Collins, who once directed the agency’s Human Genome Project. Dr. Collins has been predicting for years that gene sequencing will lead to a vast array of new treatments, but years of effort and tens of billions of dollars in financing by drug makers in gene-related research has largely been a bust.

As a result, industry has become far less willing to follow the latest genetic advances with expensive clinical trials. Rather than wait longer, Dr. Collins has decided that the government can start the work itself.

Dr. Collins, this is so not the right move. Why not put some of your prestige towards untangling the regulations that make it more and more expensive for drug companies to get approvals?

Comments

  1. Ever hear of Christopher Hitchens? His writing and speaking has received a lot of attention in some circles, and now he has inoperable esophageal cancer. He also is a personal acquaintance of NIH’s Dr. Francis Collins, about whom he says [quoting here from a Jan. 14th “Q&A” interview] “he’s taking a very kindly interest in my case and has helped me have my genome sequenced and trying to look for a more perfect identifiable match for any mutation they can find that’s peculiar to me that can be targeted by a special drug…. And that involves … 6 billion DNA matches of my tumor set against 6 billion DNA matches of my blood to look for something that was individually mutated that wasn’t in my genes … had to go to St.Louis…. That seems to be where the project is for finding out how the genome can be applied to individuals’ predicaments in medicine. It’ll be common place soon.”

    Hitchens, I think, has nothing to lose. If Collins is just tired of waiting for Big Pharma to figure out what can be done when he knows what can be done, then let him demonstrate it. If it keeps Hitchens going, he will absolutely write about it. Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions that this is the territory where Collins is focusing the public funds, but I’ll bet I’m right — it is his baby, his specialty.

    Custom designed medicine I think has no precedent, so all should feel free to propose the regulation and implementation model. It may well be a boon to future cancer sufferers, because cancer has about as many variants as there are patients. The equipment will surely come from private industry, and the processes will be public domain. If public funds are spent to prove and improve the process until private enterprise can envision the profitability, I have no problem with that. I wouldn’t care if it continued to be done by government, as long as it does not become the cure that only celebrities can access.

    The economic effect is through jobs. The jobs are the same whether they are public or private. Either it will lead to affordable treatment or it won’t, so it will lead to more jobs and lives saved or it won’t. I don’t see how it ever could explode into the next big thing that employs millions of us, but it would be nice to see an affordable place like St. Louis become the center of something that moves away from the coasts.

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