Tumble over the 'patent cliff' fosters innovation in developing new medicines

December 12, 2012

All eyes may be on Washington this month as the White House and Congress confront the fiscal cliff, but the industry that produces life-saving medications has recently gone over its own counterpart -- the patent cliff. That's the topic of the cover story in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Rick Mullin, C&EN senior editor, explains that in the last 18 months, major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Eli Lilly & Co. and AstraZeneca lost patents on some of their best-selling drugs. These included the anti-cholesterol medicine Lipitor, blood-thinner Plavix and schizophrenia drugs Zyprexa and Seroquel IR. In the U.S., patents on drugs last for 20 years, after which other companies are free to market generic versions. The loss of revenue combined with the global recession has sent manufacturers of such blockbuster medicines looking for better ways to develop new drugs.

Mullin describes how innovations are raising hopes for new drugs - and profits - as 2013 approaches. A cornerstone of the new approach is a focus on pairing low costs with high quality. The industry is also taking a fresh look at potential new drugs for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other unmet medical needs. In addition, drug companies are pursuing new research partnerships with universities, expanding their international markets, shrinking their staffs and buying up smaller biotechnology firms.
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