The human mind has an unlimited ability to learn and build on new ideas. Harnessing this capacity is what innovation is all about. Through trial and error, we make breakthrough discoveries and solutions that improve the quality of life and well-being for people around the world.
Most people think about technology when hearing innovation, seeing this as something that changes how we do things. It’s more common to think about innovation through what makes our lives easier such as apps, a water purifier or wrinkle-free clothing. However, not many think about medications as innovations, except when you get sick. In fact, like technology, advances in medications can absolutely be viewed as innovations.
Dr. Oranee Tangphao noted that, “Innovations in medicine are both interesting – but also very important. Currently, Thailand imports medicines from countries that focus on research and development (R&D) of pharmaceuticals for global markets. This makes Thailand a consumer instead of a producer. But Thailand would have more advantages by being a producer, and this would positively impact Thais by improving consumer access to much-needed quality medicines. It would also benefit a new generation of researchers by further developing their knowledge while creating important economic advantages for the country.”
Innovations come about from many processes beginning with a hypothesis, together with an idea supported by research. Repeated experimentation delivers a targeted result which leads to commercialization of the idea. The same process applies to innovations in medicine. R&D specialists begin by establishing a hypothesis to determine which underlying mechanism will mitigate and treat a patient’s illness. The next step is developing a prototype drug for initial experimentation, followed by laboratory tests and clinical trials involving volunteers. It’s essential that researchers gain valuable knowledge and experience when creating innovations in medicine. The process can be long – sometimes over ten years and come with very high costs in the range of 10 billion baht, just to develop an innovative medicine that meets international standards, and is then registered widely and approved to treat patients. Needless to say, while it’s a worthwhile investment, it takes a huge amount of time and dedication but the upside is that people can benefit in terms of improved health outcomes and quality of life.
Level of Innovations in Medicine
Innovative medicines can be categorized in two groups: 1. Narrow range (local impacts), and 2. Wide range (global impacts).
Innovative medicines with a narrow range (local impacts) are developed based on existing knowledge and have no impact at the international level. These types of medicines are not considered breakthrough innovations so they are not granted drug patents. Instead, medicines such as biosimilars and generic drugs are produced as a substitute for imported medicines, which improves access for patients domestically.
Innovative medicines with a wide range (global impacts) are recognized and accepted at the international level. Created to meet the demands of a large number of people, these medicines provide value for society and can be further studied and developed into new innovations. These medicines are developed to cure, protect, or mitigate challenging illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancers and polio, and can lift the quality of medical care in Thailand to a more advanced level. By ensuring the intellectual property rights for a pharmaceutical product’s patent, these medicines can lead to further innovations in the industry, both domestically and internationally.
Innovative medicines are not meant to copy or reshape existing medicines in new formats. Instead, they are creating something entirely new through a pioneering process that incorporates a scientific hypothesis plus an idea, together with repeated experiments. The goal is to produce an innovative medicine that can be registered and approved for use with a broad range of patients.
When asked how Thailand can become a producer of innovative medicines, Dr. Oranee replied that a clear national vision is needed complemented by R&D efforts that encourage and support groundbreaking ways of thinking. She added that Thailand must strengthen its human resources locally to increase study, research and development opportunities. This will improve productivity to meet international standards and help the country transition from being a consumer to a global leader in innovative medicines.
Dr. Oranee Tangphao is an expert in clinical drug development. She holds an MD degree from the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, and trained in Internal Medicine. A recipient of the Anandamahidol Foundation scholarship for advanced education abroad, she received her Master’s degree from McMaster University, Canada. Dr. Oranee is Board Certified in Clinical Pharmacology (American Board of Clinical Pharmacology) through her training at Stanford University, where her main focus was on pharmaceutical product development. She is a former Assistant Professor at the Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, and a clinical researcher at Stanford University. Over the last 20 years, Dr. Oranee has achieved multiple successes in her career in drug development and has taken on broader responsibilities. She currently holds the position of Chief Medical Officer at a startup in the US, and serves as a consultant for several public and private organizations in Thailand and the US. She is frequently invited to speak on developments in clinical medicines in both countries.