August 09, 2011

The Fountain Of Youth

What will it be?

By Melvin J. Howard

The blockbuster drug cabinet is currently looking pretty bare these days, and big pharma is getting jumpy. Many recent blockbusters act on certain enzymes to inhibit their production of an undesired chemical that causes problems like high cholesterol. But the enzymes available for such targeting are pretty much used up by now by all the existing blockbusters. In addition, it will be hard to improve on existing treatments for the 5 main ailments that currently dominate the top 20 drug lists - heartburn, arthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and low spirits (depression). So what next?

Operating in the favor of big pharma profitability is the aging of the rich world populations with money to buy prescription drugs. This aging in the West will drastically increase per capita spending on prescription medicines in the coming years. Finding effective medication for the degenerative altzheimers disease or even osteoporosis would be like hitting the jackpot. But with few warm leads on such cures, investing R&D monies in this area is certainly very risky.

In it's efforts to produce a blockbuster for the over 65s, one of the biggest drug giants Pfizer has been working on the elusive "fountain of youth" pill, also known as the "frailty pill". By stimulating the pituitary gland to produce more growth hormone, this drug aims to reverse the degenerative process that comes with aging and make old people feel young again this would give a whole new meaning to the phrase sex, drugs and rock and roll where 70 is the new 50 and age is nothing but a numberTaking the trend set by drugs such as Viagra, Rogaine and Paxil to a whole new level, this drug promises to be the ultimate "lifestyle drug" for the baby boomer generation. But so far the clinical trials have not produced the desired results.

Nevertheless, if the drug companies could get the youth pill to work then, by playing on one of the deepest of human fears, they will have struck gold. Consumers might start taking such medications at the first signs of old age and then be taking them for the next 50 years!

Another strategy we are likely to find interesting enough  is the use of 'gene hunting', where researchers try to discover the genetic roots of chronic diseases and thereby devise treatments. But payoffs from gene technology are not expected for another decade or so. In the midst of this current drought in the blockbuster drug pipeline, many industry watchers have noted that increasing consolidation has actually made the drug industry less efficient at producing more drugs.

But that's not the worst of it, by far. The patented medicine model, while contributing much to the welfare of the western world over the past century, has itself aged and entered a seriously degenerative phase. It is not making much sense in our globalized markets, and maybe it's time for it to die out and reboot. Today, people all over the world, regardless of nationality, political ideology, or wealth, should seriously be questioning the suitability and sustainability of the old contemporary patented medicine model.