Whenever critics complain about the high cost of prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical industry's standard defense is that companies have to plow so much money into researching innovative new medicines. But a recently released report from the Government Accountability Office casts doubt on that rationale. Yes the industry is spending heavily on R&D, the GAO found, but it turns out big pharma isn't actually generating such a good return on their investments.
The congressional watchdog agency's 48-page study came up with disturbing numbers. From 1993-2004, spending by U.S. drug companies on research and development jumped 147%, from $16 billion to nearly $40 billion annually. But the number of applications the pharmaceutical firms submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for potentially groundbreaking new drugs during that 10-year period increased only a meager 7%. And since 1995, the applications for these innovative drugs have been dropping each year. "The productivity of research and development investments has declined," the GAO concluded.