Breaking Down Medical Innovation

Every day, people around the world benefit from medical innovation. From antibiotics to insulin, discoveries in medical science have changed and improved the way we live. Scientific research and development is the foundation of these modern miracles – and strong innovation ecosystems help that experimentation flourish.

When you picture a medical breakthrough, a single, “Eureka!” moment may come to mind. But the story of innovation doesn’t begin and end with a groundbreaking discovery in a distant lab. No matter how novel the discovery, there are many steps – and a significant investment of resources – that lie between a research facility and your medicine cabinet.

In fact, discovery of a potential treatment is only the very beginning of the process. After researchers identify a promising molecule, it must go through several rounds of clinical trials and testing before it is approved to go to market. This process is essential in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of modern medicines. However, it comes at a cost.

Hundreds of molecules enter clinical testing each year. Of these many candidates, only 12% are approved for use by patients. The rigorous research and development phase can take upwards of a decade to complete. Whether or not these molecules make it to patients, the price tag is hefty. On average, it costs $2.6 billion to bring a new drug to market.

And, although government and academia often lay the groundwork for drug development, biopharmaceutical companies take the lead when it comes to developing new medicines. In 2016 alone, the industry invested $89.8 billion in research and development – almost triple the NIH’s total budget of $30.5 billion.

This is where intellectual property (IP) comes in. Strong IP protections ensure that the companies bringing innovative medicines to market have an incentive to do so. Patent protections on new drugs allow companies to recoup some of their investment in the lengthy development process. Revenue from the small number of successful drugs are funneled back into the research and development process, leading to yet more cutting-edge and life-changing treatments.

It may seem that IP only factors in at the end of the development process, once a drug goes to market. In fact, intellectual property plays a vital role throughout the lengthy research and development pipeline. Biopharmaceutical companies pour a great deal of resources into each phase of this process. A strong innovation ecosystem, fostered by IP protections, encourages investment and accelerates the creation of life-changing treatments.