Medical Innovation Then and Now: Perspectives of Innovators Responsible for Transformative Drugs

Shuai Xu, Aaron S. Kesselheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Effective medical innovation is a common goal of policymakers, physicians, researchers, and patients both in the private and public sectors. With the recent slowdown in approval of new transformative prescription drugs, many have looked back to the "golden years" of the 1980s and 1990s when numerous breakthrough products emerged. We conducted a qualitative study of innovators (n=127) directly involved in creation of groundbreaking drugs during that era to determine what made their work successful and how the process of conducting medical innovation has changed over the past 3 decades. Transcripts were analyzed using standard coding techniques and the constant comparative method of qualitative data analysis to identify the positive features of and challenges posed by the past and present therapeutic innovation environments (70 of the 127 interviewees explicitly addressed these issues). Interviewees emphasized the continued central role played by individuals and the institutions they were a part of in driving innovation. In addition, respondents discussed the importance of collaboration between individuals and institutions to share resources and expertise. Strong underlying basic science was also cited to be a major contributing factor to the success of an innovation. The climate for modern-day medical innovation involves a greater emphasis on patenting in academia, difficulty negotiating the technology transfer process, and funding constraints. Regulatory demands or reimbursement concerns were not commonly cited as factors that influenced transformative innovation. This study suggests that generating future transformative innovation will require a simplification of the current technology transfer process, continued commitment to basic science research, and policy changes that promote meaningful collaboration between individuals from disparate institutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-575
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Law, Medicine and Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy


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