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As debate grows over the role that taxpayer dollars play in drug discovery, an analysis finds one in four new medicines approved by regulators over the past decade benefited from publicly supported late-stage research or spinoff companies that were created by public sector research institutions.

Moreover, drugs that were approved following major public financing were more likely to have won speedier approvals by the Food and Drug Administration. These medicines were also more likely to be so-called first-in-class treatments, suggesting they offered novel approaches to therapeutic care and therefore were potentially more clinically important.


Specifically, of 248 drugs that contained one or more new molecular entities and were approved by the FDA between January 2008 and December 2017, 48 — or 19% — originated in publicly supported R&D. At the same time, 14 — or 6% — originated in companies that were spun off from a publicly supported research program, according to the analysis, which was published in BMJ.

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  • As usual, the actual results don’t match the headline.

    A casual reader may conclude that “publicly financed” equals the NIH or a government-employed researcher.

    In fact, the authors use an expansive definition of the “public sector.” Here are examples of the “public sector institutions” that are listed as holding one or more patents: University of Chicago, University of Michigan, Massachusetts General Hospital, Sloan-Kettering, Mayo Clinic, et al.

    In other words, large, private, multi-billion, allegedly “non-profit” hospitals account for a substantial portion of the “public sector” in this analysis.

    All in all, very misleading research that appears to exist primarily to provide talking points to those who don’t bother to read the research and don’t want to consider whether any of these hospitals could have turned a single patent into a commercial product.

  • After reading the limitations that our scribe added at the end, while I appreciate the analysis required, I must observe that I doubt the study in question was worth his effort. Others may differ …

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