LONDON (Reuters) - The pharmaceutical market is failing to conceive of new pregnancy medication, creating just three drug patents for maternal health in 28 years, British researchers said on Tuesday.
Seventeen of the drugs under development for use are just improvements to existing treatments, the study by Imperial College London shows. That is less than 3 percent of the drugs being the industry is pumping out for cardiovascular treatment.
Development also falls short of the 34 drugs for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- or Lou Gehrig’s Disease -- which affects between two and five people in 100,000.
In contrast, 500,000 women die during pregnancy worldwide each year and more than 7 million babies die before or shortly after birth, mostly in the developing world, researchers said.
“The paucity of obstetric drugs impacts not only the resource-rich countries, but also affects the far greater disease burden in resource-poor countries,” researchers Nick Fisk and Rifat Atun wrote.
This is partly because regulators and aid organizations have neglected a sector that does not provide drug companies the financial incentives to pursue new treatments, they said.
A spokesman for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations was unavailable for comment.
The researchers, in their analysis, reviewed a database of drugs listed as under development on company Web sites, at conferences, in medical journals and as part of registered clinical trials.
They found that, since 1980, more than 37,000 drugs have been listed as under development but only atosiban, carboprost and carbetocin have been licensed for pregnant women.
Ferring Pharmaceutical sells atosiban and carbetocin as Tractocile and Duratocin, respectively, while Pfizer Inc markets carboprost as Hemabate.
“In the United States, no licensed drug is available for pre-term labour,” the researchers said.
Industry reluctance to test drugs that could cause birth defects and spur big lawsuits, a small market size for conditions affecting pregnant women, and a regulatory system that allows off-label use are some reasons, they added.
Solutions could include financial incentives to spur new drug development and the use of not-for-profit organizations to carry out research, they said.
“Given the unacceptably high number of maternal and perinatal deaths each year, it is high time to address this failure,” the researchers said.
Editing by Suzy Valentine
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