Personalized Medicine Could Shake Up Pharma
New methods of targeting certain treatments to smaller patient populations could drastically change the sales patterns of well-known drugs—for better or worse
In the game of pharma, companies may have to give up on the home run known as the blockbuster drug—products like Lipitor and Avastin that were marketed to large swaths of the population and generated billions in sales—and hope that well-timed singles and doubles can carry the day.
Drug manufacturers have been loath to surrender broad markets and efficient marketing campaigns for more targeted patient populations and, presumably, higher marketing costs. But the number of prospective blockbusters has dwindled—and some drug companies are slowly coming around to the potential benefits of targeting certain treatments to smaller patient populations who genetic tests show will be most receptive to them. The hope is that increased safety and quality assurance—and the possibility of moving drugs up into earlier phases of treatment—could bolster sales and help make up for narrower markets for each drug.
There’s no certainity, however, as the markets for specific drugs shrink, that drug companies will be able to make up for the size of their lost blockbusters by developing enough new products to treat the same population their drugs previously treated, says a biotech analyst at Leerink Swann & Co.
At a time when the success of U.S. health-care reform legislation largely hinges on the ability to slash medical costs, the promise of saving billions of dollars by not prescribing drugs to patients who genetic testing shows won’t respond to them could make a compelling case for an accelerated shift toward personalized medicine.