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Pharmaceutical Companies Ramping Up Cancer Research

Monday, September 21, 2009 at 06:10 PM EDT

Like any other industry, pharmaceutical companies are continually chasing profits. In recent years, companies like Pfizer have grown fat off of cardiovascular drugs such as Lipitor (used for lowering cholesterol).

However, it seems there’s a shift in Big Pharma’s business model. It seems nearly all the major players are jumping on the cancer bandwagon, and ramping efforts in the realm of cancer research.

The reason for this renewed interest in cancer is twofold. For one, recent cancer research has identified a number of new biomarkers and targets. These new targets help point pharmaceutical manufacturers in the right direction when it comes to developing effective drugs.

For two, annual earnings from cash cows such as Lipitor are beginning decline. The potential for high profits that is possible through cancer medications can help fill this gap in profitability.

For some experts, the shift to cancer is a bit surprising. In the past, Big Pharma largely eschewed cancer research because of the small population segments that are diagnosed with any one particular type of the disease. This results in a much smaller target consumer when compared to the millions of individuals who suffer from more widespread diseases.

Additionally, very few cancer drugs make it to market each year. For 2008, only two new cancer drugs were approved by the FDA.

Despite this, Pfizer plans to increase annual sales of cancer medications from $2.5 billion in 2008 to $11 billion by 2018. The reasoning comes in the exorbitant prices that often come along with cancer drugs. Despite small target audiences, cancer drugs accounted for three of the top ten medications in terms of annual sales for 2008. Cancer drugs as a whole also combine to be the largest category in terms of worldwide sales.

As Robert L. Erwin, a biotechnology industry executive at Marti Nelson Cancer Foundation, explains: ” As long as the health care system will pay the price, the money will flow in that direction.”