Joe vs. the Volcano

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  • 11/19/2014

Much chatter about the Tuft’s Center’s new number for the cost of drug development.

Here’s the thoughtful comment from those lovely folks at Médecins Sans Frontières :

“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.”

NGO’s can poo-poo the important work of Joe DiMasi and crew this as much as they like – but serious analysis can’t just be tsk-tsked away by using the “industry-supported” evasion.

Here’s the news – and it’s important.

Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development Releases New Data on the Average Cost to Develop a New Medicine

The Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development released new research on the average cost of drug development.  The research conducted by Joseph DiMasi, Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, Henry Grabowski, Department of Economics, Duke University, and Ronald Hansen, William E. Simon School of Business, University of Rochester. 

The estimates are based on research and development (R&D) costs for 106 randomly selected new drugs (87 small molecule drugs and 19 biologic medicines) obtained from a survey of 10 pharmaceutical firms The methodology used is consistent with prior research.  The studies use compound-level data on the cost and timing of development for a random sample of new drugs first investigated in humans and annual company pharmaceutical R&D expenditures obtained through surveys of a number of pharmaceutical firms. The new compounds were first tested in humans anywhere in the world from 2005 and 2007 and development costs were obtained through 2013. [i]

The estimates represent the average cost of developing a new medicine, including the costs of the majority of compounds which do not make it through clinical trials, and the large cost of capital associated with the long-term investments required for drug discovery and development.

  • The average R&D cost required to bring a new, FDA-approved medicine to patients is estimated to be $2.6 billion over the past decade (in 2013 dollars), including the cost of failures. When costs of post-approval R&D[ii] are included the cost estimate increases to $2.8 billion. 
  • Average R&D costs have more than doubled over the past decade.

*Previous research by same author estimated average R&D costs in the early 2000s at $1.2 billion in constant 2000 dollars (see J.A. DiMasi and H.G. Grabowski. "The Cost of Biopharmaceutical R&D: Is Biotech Different?" Managerial and Decision Economics 2007; 28: 469–479).  That estimate was based on the same underlying survey as the author's estimates for the 1990s to early 2000s reported here ($800 million in constant 2000 dollars), but updated for changes in the cost of capital.

  • The overall probability of clinical success (i.e., likelihood drug entering clinical testing will eventually be approved) was estimated to be 11.83%--this is significantly lower than the rate of 21.5% estimated previously.
  • While the length of the process did not contribute to increases in R&D costs, it remained a very large share (45%) of total capitalized costs.
  • Factors contributing to rising R&D costs cited by the researchers include:

o   Increases in out-of-pocket costs for individual drugs are attributed to a range of factors including but not limited to increased clinical trial complexity and larger clinical trial sizes and a greater focus on targeting chronic and degenerative diseases.

o   Higher failure rates for drugs tested in human subjects. The researchers noted an increase in the proportion of projects failing early, before reaching more costly Phase III trials.

These findings reinforce the challenges and complexities related to drug development, including technical challenges as companies are often focusing their R&D where the science is difficult and the failure risks are also higher.

For more information, please see:  

[i] Note: the data are based on R&D projects there were self-originated. The study excludes R&D costs for licensed-in and co-developed compounds.

[ii] Post-approval R&D comprises efforts subsequent to original market approval to develop the active ingredient for new indications and patient populations, new dosage forms and strengths, and to conduct post-approval research required by regulatory authorities as a condition of original approval.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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