Journal of Pharmaceutical Innovation

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 35–49 | Cite as

Drivers and Barriers to Drug Discovery: Insights from a Cross-sectional Survey

  • Alfred SarkissianEmail author
Original Article



Motivated by stagnant new drug approval rates, this study explores the drivers and barriers to drug discovery to extract policy-relevant advice.


As part of a doctoral dissertation, an online survey was administered to drug discovery experts between July and November 2017. Respondents came from patents, startup managers/founders, conference speakers, consultants, and LinkedIn profiles, contingent on finding respondent emails from a web search. Respondents ranked drivers and barriers to drug discovery and judged R&D and drug approval trends.


Pooling responses based on frequency of mentions, indicate that respondents deem “skilled R&D scientists”, “R&D investments”, and “good R&D management” as the top three drivers of drug discovery. The “depth” of specialized knowledge is mentioned more than the “diversity” of knowledge available to the discovery team. Likewise, “complex clinical trials”, “companies pursuing the same drug targets”, and “designing drug substances with a single or narrow therapeutic benefits” are top ranked barriers to drug discovery. The majority view is that R&D spending has been stagnant for the past decade. New drug approval trend is judged to be improving in the past 5 years. Ninety percent of respondents believe their responses are generalizable to other therapeutic areas, indicating instrument’s validity in capturing general drug discovery issues.


There are traces of hard and soft institutional problems, firm capability development failures, networking failures, and institutional rigidities (i.e., lock-in failures) in the drug discovery innovation system.


Drug discovery Eroom’s law Innovation systems Pharmaceutical innovation R&D trend Survey 



This paper is based on one chapter of my doctoral dissertation in public policy. I would like to thank my dissertation committee chair Prof. David M. Hart, and committee members Prof. Siona Listokin and Prof Naoru Koizumi. Dr. Ruben Jacobo-Rubio, serving as external reader, was also forthcoming with his comments on the dissertation research. All omissions and errors are mine.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Schar School of Policy and GovernmentGeorge Mason UniversityArlingtonUSA

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