Novartis is tackling the rising prices of drug development by using sensors for remote monitoring in trails that are helping the Swiss drugs major improve its attrition rates.

Speaking in Basel at Novartis’ Innovating for Patients event, Tim Wright, head of pharmaceutical development, put the ‘fully loaded’ cost of developing a compound, including failures elsewhere in the pipeline, at $4.6 billion for the industry as a whole, noting that late-stage failures alone contribute at least another $1 billion to that amount. Costs have not yet plateaued but he noted that of the major drugmakers, Novartis is near the bottom of the table of spending per marketed compound, bettered only by Amgen, which deals exclusively with biologics.

When asked by PharmaTimes what Novartis can do to address the problem of this business model, Dr Wright said there is no easy solution because “if there are no risks, there are no breakthroughs”. However he said that it is important to ‘kill early’ compounds that will not make the grade before they enter pivotal trials. Noting that efficiency is helped by Novartis strategy of one drug that can treat multiple indications, he noted that “we have a higher bar” than many other drugmakers when deciding  to advance a project.

To help this process, he told PharmaTimes that remote monitoring, which can involve a tiny sensor implanted in a medicine or a patch worn on the patient's abdomen, could validate patient reported outcomes (PROs) in trials, a necessity for their acceptance by regulators. In terms of improving efficiencies overall, he also made reference to the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing collaboration.

The 10-year project involves replacing the pharmaceutical industry’s conventional batch-based system with a continuous manufacturing process. This could accelerate the introduction of new drugs through efficient production.