New drugs the next casualty of the credit crunch



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Scientists at an international conference have been warned that the next casualty of the credit crunch could be new drugs.

The warning says the current global financial crisis could well threaten and seriously delay the discovery and production of many new life-saving medicines.

The warning has come from Professor David Wield, the Director of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) at Edinburgh’s Innogen Centre.

Professor Wield the chair of the ‘Genomics and Society: Reinventing Life?’ conference in London this week delivered the stark warning prior to the gathering of over 200 experts.

Professor Wield says investment into research for new drugs which globally runs into the billions, is now seriously threatened as former investors in the drug companies shy away as a result of the economic meltdown.

He says investing in biotech companies is now seen as risk taking, and will not be for the timid and the dilemma is what will happen to investment in biotech research if finance cannot even be found for relatively everyday expenses which are increasingly becoming more of a struggle.

Professor Wield says the discovery of new drugs depends on long-term finance with high risk of failure - financing of biotechnology companies hit $50bn in 2007 but overall, these biotechs companies made profits for the very first time last year, amounting to $1bn on revenues of $59bn.

According to Professor Wield, in addition to the impact on the basic research performed at biotechnology companies, development of medicines by pharmaceutical companies has also been hit by the credit crunch.

He says the pharmaceutical industry like many other sectors, has experienced tough times recently and there appears to be no way to speed up and improve the drug discovery pipeline, and heavily increased research and development has not increased the number of new drugs, with the result that big companies have been laying-off staff and closing down research units, instead looking to biotechnology start-ups for new ideas.

The significant long term and immediate challenges faced by the pharmaceutical sector have been recognised and British Research Councils are apparently working to help underpin future development of the sector, to find new ways of enabling effective drug trials that enjoy public confidence and by building new research partnership with the sector.

The impact of the credit crunch on research into new medicines and treatments will be considered at the conference as part of a debate featuring two eminent economics experts, Professor Gary Pisano of Harvard University, and Professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, in a session will be chaired by BBC business journalist, Simon Gompertz.

Other conference sessions will focus on whether society is keeping pace with advances in biology, including issues surrounding the use and safekeeping of personal biological information, the development of sustainable biofuels, and the creation for stem cell research, of human-animal hybrids.

Other topics to be discussed range from the ethical impacts of emerging disciplines such as synthetic biology - which attempts to recreate living systems in the laboratory and may one day produce artificial life-forms - to the likely contributions the life sciences will make to global challenges such as food security and climate change.

The annual conference brings together social and natural scientists with policymakers and commentators, from all over the globe.

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