RA is opening my eyes to the complex world of high level, biological medicines. According to one source, the global market for TNF inhibitors (e.g. Enbrel, Humira, etc.) was $13.5 billion in 2008. Understandably, it takes years of research, clinical trials, and approval processes in multiple countries before a new medication hits the market. And recouping those costs is important since the pharmaceutical companies have so much invested. But these dollar amounts amaze me when I consider the exorbitant retail price (about $1,800 a month) and the fact that the FDA gives a 14 year lock on biologicals before making it generic (7 years for other drugs).
Upon the announcement of FDA approval of Cimzia, a new TNF inhibitor, the stock shares of UCB, the company that produces it, jumped dramatically and they estimate $1 billion profit from the drug in the first year. Now that I’m taking Cimzia, I wondered for a moment if I should rush out and buy stock! But I think I’ll wait until the verdict on its effectiveness on me is in. Clearly, biological medications represent a very profitable business.
I’m convinced that the researchers on the front lines doing the basic lab work have the best interest of suffering patients at heart. Seattle, where I live, is a hub of biotech industry. The Institute for Systems Biology. the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI), the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington Medical Center, and many others are located here. In my line of work, I’ve had the fortune of getting to know some of these scientists. They are passionate about discovering treatments and cures for diseases. The Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation, is also headquartered in Seattle (yes, the Bill Gates from Microsoft). They made healthcare a funding priority and they pump billions of dollars into research designed to treat and cure worldwide diseases.
In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) pours in billions of tax dollars into medical research. In 2009, they estimate that $238 million will go into arthritis research. For fun, check out NIH’s list of funding. While $238 million may sound like a lot, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to other categories. I’m glad for this funding but I also know that politics plays a role in this funding.
It also helps to place a human face with this type of research. Bruce Beutler was the scientist behind the development of Enbrel. He is now at the Scripps Institute. Here’s a link to his lab website where you can check out what they’re doing now. I’m thankful for his groundbreaking research that led to TNF inhibitors that are widely used for treating RA today.
I’m still unraveling the systems, funding, political, and business sides of this emerging world. Parts of it make me very glad. Others cause me concern. I most look forward to future research and resultant treatments…and dare I say cures…for RA.
photo Creative Commons License http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaibara/