Dr. Walter Moos, a biotech executive, presented “The Dollars and Sense of Pharmaceutical Innovation: Saving Lives Through Drug Discovery” Sunday in Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre as part of the biennial Baker Forum.
Dr. Moos has published five books and more than 150 manuscripts and medical research papers. As vice president of the biosciences division of SRI International, one of the world’s largest independent nonprofit research and development organizations, he leads a team of more than 200 people and has access to all of the resources necessary to take research from initial discoveries to the start of human clinical trials.
Dr. Moos’s main point in the hour-long presentation was to raise public awareness about a very important and very neglected topic. A quote by Dr. Seuss was highlighted at the introduction and conclusion of the lecture. “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing will happen, it won’t.”
Throughout the lecture he emphasized the fact that despite significant efforts by certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups, there is not enough being done in the field of drug discovery. “Standing still is going backwards … exponentially,” Dr. Moos said. “Cancer will kill 50 people in the course of this lecture. This is unacceptable.”
In the introduction, Dr. Moos outlined the need for creative distribution of drugs, innovation of new drugs, the importance of NGOs and nonprofits in the industry and the need for scientists and researchers to continue to “learn and do.”
The second portion of the lecture focused on pharmaceutical math and was meant to give the audience a clearer understanding of the numbers involved in the industry. Dr. Moos explained the difficult process of getting a new drug into the market and how essential it is to saving lives.
He said at least 40 percent of the dramatic rise in life expectancy of people in the United States during the last century can be attributed to the discovery and mass distribution of new drugs.
Unfortunately, the process of getting a new drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is extremely long, costly and difficult. Just to get a single drug to the point of human testing, it generally costs a minimum of half a billion dollars, and these costs have been steadily rising. The cost of the entire process for a single drug, from discovery to release, is an estimated $1.8 billion and takes between 10 and 20 years. So far in 2010, about $65 billion have been spent on research and development of drugs.
Despite the large numbers, drugs in relation to health care in general are not as costly as you might think, Dr. Moos said. “Drugs only account of 10 percent of the total cost in health care,” he said.
Dr. Moos also said the potential for the number of new drugs to be discovered is endless. “The sky is the limit,” he said. “The estimated number of possible new drugs is equivalent to the estimated total number of particles in the universe.”
Dr. Moos said people like him in the field of drug innovation “can measure their success in terms of lives saved.” He talked about how NGOs and nonprofits currently play a vital role in the research and development of new drugs, and in the process of getting them on the market to save lives.
In the final section of the presentation Moos talked about education with a focus on Cal Poly. “What college students are learning today, won’t be applicable to what they are doing in their jobs in 10 to 15 years,” Dr. Moos said. “Technology is simply evolving too fast for things to remain applicable.”
However, he said Cal Poly is in a better place than most other colleges because of the “learn by doing” mentality. Dr. Moos talked about the importance of the college demographic being aware of the world’s need for drug innovation, both as an important voting class and as potential scientists and contributors.
He also discussed the challenges behind raising public awareness on the topic, because, he said, “most people just simply don’t have a clue.” Dr. Moos talked about how people in his field are constantly searching for simple ways to explain complicated science to potential investors, politicians and the general public.
Dr. Moos concluded his presentation reiterating his primary point through the words of Dr. Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing will happen, it won’t.”
Professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering Unny Menon was among a multitude of Cal Poly professors attending the event.
“Dr. Moos mentioned in a number of places how Cal Poly student’s seem especially well prepared to meet the challenges discussed,” he said. This is true, Menon said, because of Cal Poly’s focus on hands-on learning and because students have access to a “multi-disciplined” education. Overall, “this presentation was a very encouraging note to Cal Poly students,” Menon said.
Chemistry and biochemistry department chair professor Tina Bailey also attended. “The presentation was very informative,” said Bailey, who teaches a class at Cal Poly titled Drugs and Poisons.
“I will definitely show this presentation to my class,” Bailey said. “The public needs to be informed about the happenings, challenges and truths of the pharmaceutical industry. People in America feel entitled to good health care, but they don’t understand that everything comes at a cost.”
To show his appreciation for his part in the biennial Baker forum, Cal Poly President Baker presented Dr. Moos with the book “History of Cal Poly: Learn by Doing.”