The cost of drug production has soared into the billions, presenting a huge barrier to companies hoping to market new medicines and creating a pressing need for more efficient development techniques. PerkinElmer’s Jens Hoefkens and Daniel Weaver discuss how translational medicine is simultaneously reducing expenses and improving the health of patients.

Bringing a new drug to market now costs more than $2.5 billion on average, according to a recent report from Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. This, and the fact that the design phase can last up to a decade, add up to a barely sustainable situation in which every product entering the market has to be a blockbuster. To address this challenge, pharmaceutical companies are reducing the expense and duration of the drug development process by leveraging translational medicine – the practice of more tightly integrating clinical trial data with basic research to enhance our understanding of disease.

"Major drug companies are shifting towards targeted therapy techniques,which rely upon translational medicine research to discover the diagnostics,"says Daniel Weaver, senior product manager, clinical and translational medicine-informatics, PerkinElmer.

"PerkinElmer recognised that informatics solutions were going to be a key offering for its customers, which was a large part of why I joined," he continues. "PerkinElmer has developed informatics solutions because applications in translational medicine are important to our customers."

Faster, better and at controlled costs

PerkinElmer provides a range of instruments, services, and informatics solutions that help lab professionals accelerate their research. By helping medical professionals understand the biological basis of human disorders, it becomes possible to optimise the development phase and thereby control costs.

"Translational medicine has shown the promise to bring drugs to market faster and at reduced costs,"says Jens Hoefkens, PerkinElmer’s director, strategic marketing of research, informatics. Translational medicine’s potential to drastically reduce drug development costs is only part of its appeal, however.

"The economics certainly are a key driver for the industry, but most firms – including PerkinElmer – do this work in research because they are really motivated to improve human health," says Weaver. "A number of studies over the last few years have shown that targeted therapies driven by translational medicine techniques yield better patient outcomes."

While drugs developed through translational techniques achieve better results in terms of patient health,they also have the potential to increase the speed taken to reach efficacy. After a cancer diagnosis, patients are issued the drugs that medical professionals think will work best, but the variety of genetic route causes means efficacy isn’t guaranteed. If one treatment doesn’t work, another is introduced in a process that is repeated until the drugs work, or the patient dies.

"These drugs can have tremendous side effects that can be debilitating, or even life-threatening, for patients, so being able to treat with the right drug from the get-go is a huge advantage,"says Hoefkens.

"As an added benefit, this can also improve the cost of care: by avoiding administering numerous medications that do not work, patients can be treated with the right drugs early in the process."

Research is already helping to reduce expenditure, from manufacturing to patient care, and if the spiralling cost of drug development is to be controlled, pharmaceutical companies must continue driving towards translational medicine. For Weaver,there is little doubt about the inevitability, or importance, of this happening: "Translational medicine will become more mainstream."