Back to the graph. To me, the most glaring figure in the pie-chart is the incredibly small percentage of Orphan Drugs which have emerged from the halls of Academia.
Academic institutions, whether in the US, Europe, or beyond, are where the brightest minds congregate. And its where the greatest minds of society impart wisdom, both theoretical and practical. These institutions are where awe-inspiring breakthroughs are made on a regular, almost daily, basis. Physics. Gene therapy. Cancer. Aeronautics. Energy. Communications. And more.
A debt of gratitude is owed by anyone with illness, whether actute, chronic, or rare, to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. They will always lead the charge into uncharted territory: novel therapeutic treatments for that which ails us. But prices for Rare Disease therapies have now breached the "line-in-the-sand" - a line which threatens to give the public-at-large a bitter taste towards funding expensive treatments for exceedingly small groups of patients. All we have gained is now threatened.
Setting up academic institutions - the MITs, Harvards, Stanfords, Yales, Sorbonnes, Cambridges - to become Rare Disease / Orphan Drug "incubators" would provide the genuises who call "halls overhung with ivy" home, the opportunity to collaborate with "next-gen" students to create, to excel in drug-discovery.
Just this week, scientists at the University of Notre Dame announced the discovery of a brand new class of antibiotics. It's something that doesn't happen every day, every year, or even every decade. Big Pharma has all but given up on R&D of antimicrobials, deeming them a no-profit proposition. It is proof-positive for any skeptics that pharmaceutical discovery is not exclusively a hallmark of the private-sector.
Financially speaking, the academic-model would also be a forum to demonstrate that novel life-sustaining and life-saving therapies could be created at a fraction of their current price. The profit margins which universities would seek would be mere fractions of those which pharma and biopharma firms need to demonstrate to boards and shareholders. Colleges and universities could become magnets for "tamed" venture capitalists - those seeking more modest ROI and the opportunity to "do a good turn for society."
With drug-approval cycles typically taking a decade or more, several student classes would be needed to see a drug to fruition. When something positive is in the "pipeline," universities could provide incentive for wunderkind students to remain for a period after graduation as paid consultants/employees.
This model would go far towards creating more cost-effective therapies. More "palatable" pricing would be instrumental in quelling current, worrying public and political discontent and dissent. It would allow for the continuation of novel treatments and cures which are needed to keep those with debilitating and deadly rare diseases alive and functioning.
It seems as though Academia already has a lot going for it in many of these regards:
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