For every 100,000 people in Allegheny County, about 185 die of cancer each year. That’s well above the national average of 171. And the counties south of Pittsburgh fare even worse, with 192 annual cancer deaths per 100,000 people in Washington County and 206 in Greene County.
Thankfully, medical advances could soon reduce these rates. In fact, Pennsylvania is home to some of the most promising research into new cancer drugs.
But for medical innovation to truly thrive, lawmakers must implement policies that support research into new treatments. On this front, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, deserves immense credit for pushing legislation that encourages new breakthroughs.
For tomorrow’s state-of-the-art treatments to become a reality, more lawmakers from both parties will need to follow his lead.
In the 1970s and ’80s, the United States accounted for only 32 percent of global drug development. Since then, we have grown into a world leader in medical innovation, responsible for 57 percent of new medicines.
Since 2000, the Food and Drug Administration has approved nearly 500 new medicines to treat some of the world’s most debilitating diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Pennsylvania has played a major role in this scientific renaissance, ranking fourth in the nation in both life-sciences patents and research awards from the National Institutes of Health.
Unfortunately, the future of drug discovery is far from certain. For one, new medicines are becoming more difficult and more expensive to create. The average development cost for a single new drug has risen from less than $180 million in the 1970s to $2.6 billion today.
Among potential drugs that reach the FDA’s clinical trial process, only 12 percent are ultimately approved.
There is much we can do to sustain and accelerate the pace of medical innovation.
For instance, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Drug Discovery Institute are using advanced math techniques to predict how drug compounds will interact with the human body when fighting disease. The approach could help scientists predict and avoid lines of research that will ultimately result in dead ends, thus enabling them to narrow in on successful treatments more quickly and more cost effectively.
But researchers need help to promote the future of medical science. Given the growing financial risks involved in developing a new treatment, legislators have an important role to play in protecting and strengthening the incentives for discovery.
Representatives in Congress should work to streamline the clinical-trial requirements imposed by the FDA. Dramatically reducing the time and cost of developing a new drug would benefit both research firms and patients, who would receive new treatments sooner.
Such reforms are already high priorities for some federal lawmakers. Mr. Murphy co-sponsored Michigan Rep. Fred Upton’s 21st Century Cures Act, which seeks to modernize the clinical trial and FDA approval process.
Mr. Murphy also sponsored the Generic Drug and Biosimilar User Fee Act, a reform that accelerates the FDA approval process for generic drugs, dramatically expanding access to prescription medicines.
Leaders in Congress could further aid research efforts by strengthening intellectual property protections. The only way companies and investors will be willing to spend billions of dollars creating a new medicine is if they are confident that their invention can’t easily be stolen by a competitor.
Scientists here in Pennsylvania and across the country have already demonstrated their capacity for drug innovation. But sustaining our current rate of discovery — and conquering the diseases that continue to threaten the health of Americans — requires strong support from representatives in Congress.
Audrey Russo is president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.