By Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D.

Pharmaceutical research, manufacturing, and marketing are long, nuanced, and expensive processes. While innovation in this space has a direct impact on both disease, prevention and disease outcomes, patients may often feel distant from the impact of pharmaceutical innovation. 

So, what is innovation? It is definitely not an abstract term. Traditionally, drug discovery starts in a research laboratory that is either in an academic institution or in the pharmaceutical industry. Funds to support this research come from:

  • Government grants
  • Philanthropic support
  • Pharmaceutical industry itself.

The Ripple Effects of Innovation

Along with the discovery or invention of better drugs, advances made by the pharmaceutical industry help patients and caregivers manage disease symptoms, reduce a drug’s side effects, improve life expectancy, and identify new routes of administering treatments. While these are the more direct influences of innovation on a patient’s life, secondary and tertiary effects may not be very evident, such as savings for the healthcare system that can then be redirected toward other patient-focused services, including much-needed prevention and wellness efforts.

For a new or next-generation treatment that is more effective than a previous drug:

  • The new drug might cost more than the previous version
  • However, being more effective could translate into fewer procedures, fewer emergency room visits, or fewer days in the hospital, thereby reducing overall healthcare costs

Of course, this effect would be driven by the type of disease being treated. Consider the example of a statin used to treat heart disease, which significantly reduced the need for surgical procedures and hospitalizations, leading to cost savings. 

Over the years we have all witnessed the impact of vaccines on disease prevention—very recently, this was particularly evident with vaccines against the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. During the peak of the crisis, the federal government went into crunch mode—they were agile and worked with the pharmaceutical industry to support not just the research, but also production and development to ensure vaccines and therapeutics reached the hands of providers to help reduce the spread of the virus and to treat it. 

A truly innovative treatment would influence the patient’s overall functionality, their ability to work, and ease caregiver burden. 

Healthcare Policies and Innovation 

The flip side of this innovation conversation is the rising drug costs and understanding their value—to the patient, the healthcare system, and to society as a whole. For those who want to read more, here’s an article that describes value-based agreements that allow manufacturers to establish a price for a drug based on how well patients do on that drug.

As lawmakers continue to delve into developing policies around market pricing of pharmaceutical products, the COVID-19 pandemic may be a paradigm on how the government could look beyond investing in scientific research to create a sustainable commercialization pathway for new drug products. 


Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.