By Ronald Bailey
Government expands on failure. All too often, government failure is treated as evidence that we need more government. Instead, government failure indicates that we should look for alternative results in the competitive marketplace. Unfortunately, the creation of the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is a near perfect example of how government failure leads to further government interference with markets, in this case the market for new medicines.
Over the past 15 years the number of new drugs that have been making it to patients’ bedsides has been falling. In addition, after rising steeply for many years, research spending by large drug makers has recently declined. “I am a little frustrated to see how many of the discoveries that do look as though they have therapeutic implications are waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to follow through with them,” said Francis Collins in The New York Times. Collins, as head of the National Institutes of Health, is spearheading the creation of the NCATS.
The problem is that Collins is frustrated with the wrong target. Most of the reason for the decline in new drug discovery can be encapsulated in just three letters: F-D-A. The Food and Drug Administration’s drug approval process has become so onerous and expensive that pharmaceutical companies have been cutting back on the number of new drugs that they submit for approval. In 1996, the FDA approved 53 new chemical entities (novel drugs). New Molecular Entity (NME) approvals by the FDA fell to just 18 in 2007, bumping up to 21 this past year.