R&D Cost Estimates: MSF Response to Tufts CSDD Study on Cost to Develop a New Drug

Sven Torfinn

“The pharmaceutical industry-supported Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development claims it costs US$2.56 billion to develop a new drug today; but if you believe that, you probably also believe the earth is flat.

“GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO Andrew Witty himself says the figure of a billion dollars to develop a drug is a myth; this is used by the industry to justify exorbitant prices. We need to ask ourselves, if the CEO of a top pharmaceutical company says it’s a myth that it costs a billion dollars to develop a drug, can we really take this new figure 2.56 billion seriously?

“We know from past studies and the experience of non-profit drug developers that a new drug can be developed for just a fraction of the cost the Tufts report suggests. The cost of developing products is variable, but experience shows that new drugs can be developed for as little as $50 million, or up to $186 million if you take failure into account, which the pharmaceutical industry certainly does—these figures are nowhere near what the industry claims is the cost.

“Today nearly half of R&D spending is paid for by the taxpayer or by philanthropy, and that figure continues to rise as governments do more and more to make up for the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D shortcomings. Not only do taxpayers pay for a very large percentage of industry R&D, they are in fact paying twice because they then get hit with high prices for the drugs themselves.  

“Regardless of how much R&D costs, the system is failing people in developing countries, as the latest example of Ebola shows, with over 5,000 deaths so far because there is no treatment or vaccine on the market; meanwhile millions of people continue to die from diseases such as tuberculosis. The R&D system as we know it is broken and must be fixed.”

—Rohit Malpani, Director Policy and Analysis, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign

Sizakela Nhlabatsi, 30, MDR-TB patient: ‘In March 2013 I became sick. I coughed a lot and felt pain in my chest. I went to the MSF clinic to be tested and I was diagnosed with MDR-TB. In the beginning the side effects of the medications were hard. My bones hurt, I could not walk, I had to vomit, had cramps. In the second month I wanted to give up treatment, but with the support of MSF I have succeeded to go on. Now I feel better, I can walk again and do not have to vomit anymore. ’ ‘Nobody was able to take care of me, I am the oldest of 4 children, my parents have died. I live about 5 km from the clinic and was too sick to come to the clinic for the treatment. That’s why MSF decided to put me in CANA house. I am worried about my brothers, they have to survive without me and they have no income.’ Swaziland, Cana House (MSF residence for patients on treatment) in Makanyane. October 2013.
Sven Torfinn