Ten Years of Medical Progress in Half the Time, Is It Possible?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By Mikael ​​Dolsten, MD, PhD, president, worldwide research and development and executive vice president of Pfizer Inc.

​When I started my career as a physician more than 30 years ago, I could only dream of the breakthroughs I’d come to witness. Today, we are seeing disruptive advances in new areas of science, along with a resurgence of research in areas once considered unworthy of pursuit.  We are seeing untold opportunities ranging from new therapies for hepatitis C to promising strides in immuno-oncology and targeted therapies, to the potential of gene therapy in delivering cures. We’ve come a long way in a short time, and scientific innovation is now at a crossroads.

If we are going to unlock the full potential of these exciting opportunities, the entire R&D ecosystem must commit to one thing: further acceleration. Last year, I was honored to join the Blue Ribbon panel for Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, and I was inspired by the Moonshot’s goal to achieve a decade’s worth of progress in five years. In that spirit, I am challenging us all to think about what a decade’s worth of progress in half the time could mean – not just in cancer research, but in battling every single disease that’s plaguing society, and devastating patients and families around the world.

But what do we need to make this dream a reality? In short, we need a more efficient R&D ecosystem able to more rapidly advance promising compounds through the research, development and approval process, while also ensuring patient access.

We need to foster new development paradigms to shave years off the process while ensuring therapies have appropriate risk-benefit profiles.  We need to sustain and even increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), allowing basic research to flourish while growing the next generation of scientific talent. We need a regulatory system built for the 21st Century.

When I attended Research!America’s annual National Health Research Forum, I had the privilege of discussing these ideas with leaders who can get it done. It starts with rethinking the development process and asking ourselves the hard questions. What’s not working? What can we do better, or faster?

At Pfizer, we’re relying on small efficacy studies earlier in the development process to help us make decisions about a compound’s fate sooner. Ideally, the results of these small, early studies will either give us the confidence to commit to accelerated development, or we “fail fast,” ensuring resources are allocated quickly to the next wave of promising potential therapies. But advancing such new paradigms is only one piece of the puzzle.  

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco