Incremental improvements to medicines are fundamental to enhancing the overall quality of health care. Many of the resulting medicines are inevitably very similar to existing treatments, treating the same ailment(s) in a similar way. Some have claimed that investment in the development of such drugs is wasteful.
However, these drugs often have subtle pharmacological differences which make them more appropriate for specific groups of patients. Some have fewer side effects with certain patients, which confers all manner of advantages, including better compliance and consequently reduced resistance. Others are more efficacious for particular patients. Furthermore, most of the drugs that exist today are the result of a long process of incremental innovation.
From an economic standpoint, increasing the number of medicines within a class results in lower drug prices because it increases competition between manufacturers. Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies depend on incremental innovations to provide the revenue that will support the development of more risky “block-buster” drugs. Policies that aim to curb incremental innovation will ultimately lead to a reduction in the overall quality of medicines in existing classes of drugs, and may ultimately hinder the creation of genuinely novel drugs.