Biotechnology has failed to live up to its promises

October 13, 2005

Promises of cheaper and better drugs using biotechnologies have not been met, say researchers in this week's BMJ.

They assessed biotech products approved by the European Medicine Evaluation Agency between 1995 and 2003.

Of 61 products licensed for therapeutic use, only 15 were for diseases without effective treatment, more effective than existing treatment, or active in patients resistant to current treatment.

A further 22 offered limited advantages over existing products, and 24 were copycat drugs, many of which have failed to offer new options for patients and provide no cost advantage, say the authors.

Furthermore, evaluation of these substances was not always based on rigorous methodological criteria, suggesting that commercial priorities come before the sound development of drugs in the interest of patients.

The promises of biotechnology substances to be more effective and less toxic than conventional drugs have been only partially fulfilled, they add. Many of the substances produced so far are analogues of existing drugs and have contributed little to innovation in medicine.

Nevertheless, biotechnology has made it possible to make available drugs that would otherwise be impossible to obtain in large amounts or research tools that are useful for discovering new drugs. "Let us hope that in future biotechnology will better live up to its promises."


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