Freakonomics quotes Arthor D. Levinson, head of Genentech, on the development of drugs:
You don’t just crank these drugs out. My lab cloned a portion of the breast-cancer gene in 1982. And we started making antibodies to it in the mid-’80s. Then we got cell-culture results in the late ’80s and by the early ’90s we were getting animal results. And then approval was in December ‘98. So this goes back a long, long time. Unless these companies can get a return, we are not going to get the new medicines that are making such a difference to patients’ lives right now.
Luckily for me, medical devices are much easier to bring to market, you can get FDA approval for a new device in under 5 years, if its a 510(k) device, you could do it in 2-3 if you know what you're doing. I'm always surprised that devices don't get more venture capitalist attention (or attention in general) you get quicker results, the profits are lower, but there is less risk and less investment required. I guess wonder drugs are just sexier!