More money, fewer cures: US medical research faces hurdles



MIAMI, UNITED STATES- More money is being spent on medical research but fewer new drugs are being approved and people are not living much longer than they did in the 1960s, said a US study on Monday.
Among the multiple reasons suspected for the stall in medical progress: too much focus on getting published in prestigious journals and excessive red tape and regulation, said the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



"We are spending more money now just to get the same results we always have and this is going to keep happening if we don't fix things," said co-author Arturo Casadevall, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study is based on analysis of funding through the National Institutes of Health, as well as the number of scientific studies being published, life expectancy and the number of new drug approvals -- or New Molecular Entities (NMEs) approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The study found that the number of scientists in the United States has increased more than nine-fold since 1965 and the NIH budget has increased four-fold to about $30 billion in 2015.
Meanwhile, the number of new drugs approved by the FDA has about doubled, and life expectancy has stayed relatively constant, gaining about two months per year in the past half-century.
"There is something wrong in the process, but there are no simple answers," said co-author Anthony Bowen, a visiting scholar at the Hopkins school of health.
"It may be a confluence of factors that are causing us not to be getting more bang for our buck," Bowen added.
- Red tape -
For instance, researchers today must go through lengthy consent processes for taking blood samples, and must catalog each trip to a conference for government oversight, he said.
Such tasks "add to the non-scientific burdens on scientists who could otherwise spend more time at the bench," said the study.
Others argue that modern medical challenges are more complex than ever, and finding cures for Alzheimer's and cancer simply takes more time and effort.
Casadevall said many of the best drugs used today were developed decades ago, including insulin for diabetes and beta-blockers for cardiac conditions.
But some of the problem also appears to come down to the culture of medical research today, according to the researchers.
Casadevall and Bowen said there are "perverse" incentives for researchers to cut corners or oversimplify their studies so that they can get published in top medical journals.
A separate study has showed that more than $28 billion in public and private funds are spent yearly on research that cannot be reproduced, making up about half of the content of contemporary scientific journals.
"The medical literature isn't as good as it used to be," said Casadevall.
"The culture of science appears to be changing. Less important work is being hyped, when the quality of work may not be clear until decades later when someone builds on your success to find a cure."
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Tuesday, August 18th 2015
AFP
           


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