GlaxoSmithKline chief executive officer Andrew Witty said Thursday the pharmaceutical industry's common estimate of $1 billion in average cost to develop a drug is a "myth," according to Reuters.

The drug industry, and its supporters, often cite the $1 billion price tag - and lately, we've heard $1.3 billion - to counter complaints that drugs cost too much and that insurers - government and private alike - shouldn't reduce payments for such medicine.

Witty spoke at a healthcare conference in London, where Glaxo is based. The company has thousands of employees and several facilities in the Philadelphia region.

A link to the Reuters story is here. Reuters reported that Witty said the $1 billion price tag was "one of the great myths of the industry," since it was an average figure that includes money spent on drugs that ultimately fail.

Witty has been trying in recent years, especially in the last few months, to reconfigure the research and development process to produce more or better medicine more efficiently. Some of that has meant consolidating facilities and some has meant the scientific process, such as greater use of enzymes and smaller plants versus solvents and bigger plants. (Apologies to the hard-core scientists who might object to the over-simplification.) A link to Wednesday's Inquirer story on this topic is here.

Witty said at the London conference that such efforts might lead drug companies to charge less for future drugs.

"It's not unrealistic to expect that new innovations ought to be priced at or below, in some cases, the prices that have pre-existed them," Witty said, according to Reuters. "We haven't seen that in recent eras of the (pharmaceutical) industry but it is completely normal in other industries."