I agree with David Herr ’65 (letters, Jan. 19) that seeing someone suffer from a terminal disease solely because she can’t afford an extant treatment is heart-wrenching. But his proposal that innovative drug companies give away their medicines is untenable. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a new drug to market. For the innovative drug business to be viable, the sales of such a drug must cover the drug’s own development costs and the failures of dozens of drug candidates in clinical trials, and still generate a profit. The sole peer-reviewed study published on the subject (Grabowski, Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, Vol. 7, pp. 479–488) concluded that a new drug needs 13 to 16 years of market exclusivity to justify its development. Patent protection for Alimta was sought in 1989 and granted in 1994 (with a 2011 expiration), but FDA approval only came in 2004.
Without the possibility of a patent term extension until 2016 to compensate for slow FDA approval, it is doubtful that Alimta would have reached the market; without the profits generated by Alimta over the next five years, other promising new drugs may die in the pipeline. Unquestionably, some of the many students who will be trained in Princeton’s new chemistry building, built with Alimta royalties, will contribute to humanity during their careers by participating in new drug development, or by developing generic versions of older drugs. The latter cause the price of drugs in the United States to plummet precipitously, making those medications affordable for nearly everyone, and giving innovator companies incentive to develop new drugs.
Editor’s note: An expanded version of this letter can be found at PAW Online at paw.princeton.edu.