Reuters  |  Posted: 
By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK, June 3 (Reuters) - Despite the more than $50 billion that U.S. pharmaceutical companies have spent every year since the mid-2000s to discover new medications, drugmakers have barely improved on old standbys developed decades ago.

Research published on Monday showed that the effectiveness of new drugs, as measured by comparing the response of patients on those treatments to those taking a placebo, has plummeted since the 1970s.

While that is already unwelcome news to drug and biotech companies, the consequences for the pharmaceutical industry could get worse under President Barack Obama's healthcare law.

The law established an independent research institute to compare the effectiveness of different treatments for the same condition. That way, patients as well as private insurers and government programs such as Medicare can stop paying for less effective therapies. If the new analysis is correct, then "comparative effectiveness research" could conclude that older drugs, which are more likely to be generics, are better than pricey new brand names that deliver the most profits for drugmakers.

Fears of a crisis in drug innovation have grown over the years. When the healthcare journal Prescrire in 2011 ranked new drugs, only 17 of the 984 developed since 2001 were deemed "a real advance" or better. And a survey of 184 expert physicians in 15 specialties published last month in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery showed the doctors were more likely to rate drugs more than a decade old as "transformative."

To be sure, drugs that completely change outcomes for patients continue to emerge. Gleevec, from Novartis, greatly extends life for leukemia patients, for instance. New antivirals such as Incivek from Vertex Pharmaceuticals have doubled the cure rate in hepatitis C, and Eylea from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is better than anything previously developed for macular degeneration.

Because of those and other examples, "we believe that a lot continues to be accomplished in terms of yielding very, very positive results for patients, so there seems to be a disconnect between that and this paper," said Randy Burkholder, deputy vice president of policy at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) trade group.

via Huffington Post