From Publishers Weekly
In this fascinating critical look at drug and biotech companies, Goozner pulls back the curtain on the process of new drug development and answers two important questions: "where do new drugs come from?" and "what do they cost to invent?" Using case studies that recount the discovery, development and eventual commercialization of a number of significant drugs, including Epogen and the AIDS cocktail, Goozner dismantles the pharmaceutical industrys assertion that drug prices must be kept high in order to stimulate cutting edge research. The cost of each new discovery averages $800 million, industry officials have claimed. But Goozner argues that citizens are already paying much of that bill: taxpayer-financed medical research, he finds, has played a major role in each important medical discovery. Goozner convincingly argues that new drugs get into the hands of the sick not thanks to drug and biotech companies, but to the passion of dedicated scientistsin both the private sector and the public. A former Chief Economics Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and an award-winning journalist, Goozer writes with skill and elegance, incorporating anecdote and history in a way that enlivens his research and makes his book an engrossing read. Though the issue of drug costs has been discussed extensively in the media, Goozers study puts all the political chatter, news coverage and analysts reports into a context where they finally make sense.
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From The New England Journal of Medicine
The pharmaceutical industry claims that it can continue playing a key role in the development of new weapons against disease only if Americans pay prices for medicines that yield very high profits. It also claims that price controls would cause the stream of new products to dry up. Merrill Goozner, a former chief economics correspondent at the Chicago Tribune, comes to a conclusion that is very different from the views espoused by the drug companies. He does so on the basis of a detailed review of the development of drugs to combat cancer and the human immunodeficiency virus, a description of the early successes of therapies developed by the biotechnology industry, and a review of the economics of "me-too" products, such as H(sub 2) antagonists, proton-pump inhibitors, and allergy medications. He believes that the private sector's main role is to develop and commercialize therapies that are based on knowledge generated by independent researchers in academia and in government. In his opinion, high prices and big profits are not the key ingredients in pharmaceutical breakthroughs. On one hand, this book gives the reader lots of interesting and useful background about the people and organizations involved in expanding medical knowledge and in developing drugs. On the other hand, it falls short of what I expected from the title. It is not a detailed forensic accounting of the true cost of developing individual drugs as compared with industry claims. Indeed, the only real discussion of the $800 million pill (the alleged average cost of developing a new drug in the United States) comes in a brief review of a study by the Tufts University Center for the Study of Drug Development that was first published in 1991 and then updated in 2001. There is a brief rebuttal from other organizations in the penultimate chapter of the book, but for a reader looking for definitive "proof" or data, this book falls short. Written in the typical style of investigative journalism, the book comes across as an author's attempt to prove a point, rather than an impartial scientist's effort to answer a question. Goozner repeatedly comes back to one central theme: that medical innovations start with dedicated and passionate people, most of whom are not employed by the pharmaceutical industry, who are investigating scientific questions. Without these dedicated scientists, none of the innovations described in this book would have occurred. In other words, the development of drugs is not exclusively driven by high profits but, rather, is a collection of efforts. Goozner goes on to suggest some very useful methods for improving the process of drug development with the support of government-funded research (e.g., randomized trials comparing new and existing products, such as the Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial, known as ALLHAT). Although the approach Goozner uses in this book is not scientific, I think he makes a persuasive case. The passion of individual scientists pursuing an activity they truly enjoy, not the profit motive, has led to the major technological advances of the past century. I will end by saying that I am not one who enjoys reading books slowly. I often skim. In order to read a book from cover to cover, I have to find it truly interesting. I can tell you that I read every word of this book. Allan S. Detsky, M.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.