Miracle Drugs Don't Come Easy

McArdle checks the pharmaceutical pipeline:

In many ways, the task facing researchers is simply more difficult than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, chemists had big fat targets like angiotensin, a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict. Scientists knew it caused high blood pressure, and better yet, they were pretty sure they could develop a small molecule (that is, one that can easily enter the bloodstream) that would hit what they were aiming at. Best of all, hypertension provided an enormous market. Driven by similar finds in other areas, an age of blockbusters dawned: the Lipitors and Prilosecs and Allegras.

These days the targets seem smaller, fewer, and farther away. The best-understood diseases already have a lot of good drugs treating them. New treatments need to prove that they have better efficacy, fewer side effects, or something like a longer-lasting dose that makes them superior to the pills already on the market. Longman likens this process to chasing an Olympic sprinterwho has a head start.