This looks eminently sensible - not very new though

Apparently there's some great new breakthrough in being able to make cancer drugs cheaper for patients and the NHS. This sounds like an excellent idea to us, wouldn't we all like more people to be cured more cheaply?

The high price of new cancer drugs is indefensible and unsustainable, say two of the world’s leading cancer research institutions, who propose a different way to develop them that could sideline big pharma.

“There is a clear and urgent necessity to lower cancer drug prices to keep lifesaving drugs available and affordable to patients,” say leading scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where many important new cancer drugs have been invented, in a paper in the journal Cell.

How absolutely super, eh? So, what's the magic ingredient in this?

Pharmaceutical companies used to justify their prices by pointing to the high cost of clinical trials involving many thousands of patients. But that is no longer always necessary, the scientists say in their paper. The new targeted drugs require a test for a genetic biomarker to see whether patients will respond or not. That means the drug can be trialled on far fewer people. The drug crizotinib, used for advanced lung cancer, was approved following a trial involving only 347 patients, they point out.

We're not convinced that is actually new though. The standard analysis of drug costs has been that it can cost $800 million to $ 2 billion (dependent upon who you want to believe and how you assign opportunity costs and the expenses of failures) to get a new drug through clinical trials and to FDA or equivalent approval. Further, the standard solution to these costs has been to reduce the costs by reducing the level of proof required - with the FDA specifically to argue only on proof of safety and leave effectiveness to the market (generally you must prove that the new drug is better than those already available in order to gain a licence).

Thus this proposal is not exactly new. Lower the costs of a drug gaining approval and drugs will be cheaper, yes, seems obvious enough and what some have been shouting about for some decades now.

The only remaining oddity therefore is this wibbling about "Big Pharma." Why shouldn't the big firms take part in exactly the same process? If said new process makes drugs cheaper than why not allow all to do so?