EROOM’s Law of Pharma R & D
What is Eroom’s Law?
Turn the famous Moore’s law on its head (spell Moore’s law backwards), voila you’ve the Eroom’s Law!
While the Moore’s Law tells us about the dramatic increase in the computer processing power, Eroom’s law as introduced in another Troubles of Drug Discovery piece in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, explains the drastic decline in R&D efficiency over the past sixty years.
Moore’s Law, which is named after Intel cofounder Gordon E. Moore, who observed that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on integrated circuits doubles every 18 months to two years. The law is now used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development.
The advances in many of the scientific, technological and managerial factors over the past 60 years should have raised the efficiency of commercial drug research and development. That did not happen. On the contrary, as Eroom’s law indicates the number of new drugs approved per billion US dollars spent on R&D has halved roughly every nine years since 1950. When you adjust for inflation that is a huge eighty-fold drop! The authors in their paper describe Eroom’s law by charting the ever-dwindling number of new drugs to emerge from pharmaceutical research labs against the ever-increasing amount of dollars spent on discovering them.
Jack W. Scannell, Alex Blanckley, Helen Boldon and Brain Warrington identified four primary causes for this drastic drop in R&D productivity in their highly insightful article, Diagnosing the decline in pharmaceutical R&D efficiency in Mach 2012 issue of Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. The four primary causes are:
- The ‘Better than the Beatles’ problem, which is our tendency to compete against our greatest hits of the past. Consider for example, how hard it would be to come up with a successful pop song if any new song had to be better than the Beatles. How difficult it would be to create a successor candidate for a successful drug like Lipitor?
- The ‘Cautious Regulator’ problem is the progressive lowering of risk tolerance that raises the bar on safety for new drugs, which makes R&D both costlier and harder.
- The ‘Throw money at it’ tendency is the tendency to just keep pouring more money and resources into a research project or widely held theory until something sticks. It is like throwing good money after bad.
- The ‘Basic Research-Brute Force’ bias, which is the tendency to overestimate the probability that advances in basic research and large scale screening processes will show a molecule safe and effective in clinical trials.
Drug development may never see the equivalent of Moore’s law. The human body is far too complex to lend itself to rapid solutions. Pharmaceutical industry would do well to apply fresh thinking borrow concepts from other fields like social networking.
It is time that the Pharma industry comes out of its return on pharmaceutical R&D is insufficient mindset and takes a contrarian view of its current research and development model. That would start the process of reversing the gloomy math of Eroom’s law.