R&D Activity Continues to Flourish in the Pharmaceutical Sector

With so much of the world being focused on the research and development activity on the vaccines for the omnipresent COVID-19 virus, it’s easy to overlook the parts of the biopharmaceutical industry and the progress it had made during 2020. 2020 was, for everyone, a tumultuous year, with a number of disruptions, but there were a number of notable developments in the R&D sector throughout 2020. The recently published report Global Trends in R&D: Overview through 2020, with research conducted by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, noted a number of key trends in the innovation of development in medicines, clinical trial activity, clinical development, as well as new drug approvals, including the following:

Increased Funding for Early and Late Stage R&D

COVID-19 put a stop to many aspects of the world, but the R&D sector appeared to be unaffected by these disruptions. Throughout 2020, venture capital in the Life Sciences sector increased by 50% in 2020 from 2019. With aggregate R&D expenditures by the 15 biggest selling pharmaceutical companies exceeding 20% of the aggregate reported corporate sales, this marked a 43% increase in expenditure since 2015.

Increased Spending in the R&D Industry

With a number of activities demanding funding in the pharmaceutical industry commerce such as the invention of new drugs, development, product differentiation and monitoring of drugs, the private investment in drug R&D has unfriended upwards. Although the final figure has yet to be tallied, in 2019, private investments were approximately $83 billion in 2019. And while the spending totals have not included smaller drug companies, the trend is noticeable that spending has increased. While smaller drug companies do not devote their research to testing new drugs which are sold to larger firms, larger companies are devoted to clinical trials, new dosages, delivery systems, and post-approval testing.

Clinical Trial Increases Rose by 8%

While this is a similar growth as in the previous three years leading up to 2020, and there was a drop during the first quarter because of the pandemic, from the middle of the year trials recovered to higher levels than 2019, despite the surge in COVID-19 related vaccine trials. The surge was down to the increased adoption of trial designs which incorporated a number of decentralized elements, as well as adaptive sponsors, clinical research organisations and regulators to change with regards to the COVID-centric environment. Many sectors reached levels of new highs, and notably, the oncology sector noted strong momentum and was up 60% higher than five years previously.

A Shift in Geographic Locations

A common side effect of the COVID pandemic was people moving homewards to work. In fact, the five years leading up to 2020 noted the number of continents decreased in their number of research platforms. In Europe, their share of company headquarters was 33% in 2015 and has now decreased to 22%. However, there has been an increase in products from companies based in China. In 2015, they only accounted for 3% of the market, but now comprise 12%. This is down to the innovation-focused initiatives that have been bubbling under the surface for many years. In addition to COVID-19 vaccines, the year 2020 yielded a record number of global drugs. 66 new drugs were recorded, including COVID-19 vaccines, as well as drugs for the treatment of rare diseases and in the oncology sector.

The Rise in Composite Success Rate

Across every therapy area, from Phase I to registration was 9.8% in 2020. This takes into account policies and delays arising from the pandemic. However, this is a lower figure in comparison to the average of 12.9% over the last decade, but the number speaks for itself. In light of a pandemic, the success rate was high. This was, again, particularly prominent in the oncology sector, which had the lowest productivity rate across every disease area in the last decade. The development has shot up significantly, and the early-stage development, the discovery preclinical and Phase I period, the percentage of new molecules in development representing more than 40% in this area. In the Phase II and later areas, the percentage was 30%. Overall, in the late-stage pipeline, product numbers increased by 3% totalling a 43% expansion to this part of the pipeline from 5 years prior.

What Is the Future of R&D?

The numbers are staggering in light of the circumstances, but what does the future hold for the pharmaceutical sector? While we see trends like packaging changing to adapt to modern demands in terms of R&D, 2020 saw it arise exponentially, and was naturally thrust into the limelight as a potential saviour to the pandemic. But what will we see going forward?

Accelerated Digitisation

The pharmaceutical industry is slowly coming around to the digitisation of care, and while the change is affecting the entire Healthcare system, this will offer a more personalised approach for patients. Naturally, wearable technology and video consultations are proving more popular, but we will see a change in R&D going forward, specifically in relation to collaboration. There has been a big demand for firms to pool their resources and develop products despite barriers, physical and metaphorical. The pharmaceutical industry needs to encompass a wide range of disciplines and specialities.

A Focus on Ethics and Sustainability

Ethics and sustainability are top of the agenda for every industry around the world. From the perspective of big pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline, it has been more important to reduce its carbon emissions. And change has been driven by the need to be more carbon neutral and has drastically reduced its carbon emissions by 34% since 2010 and water usage by 31%. We will see a trend for more carbon-friendly research and development practices, perhaps following the trend of China which, who knows, could stimulate the strive for innovation that we have seen in the Far East over the last few years?

But it’s safe to say that since The Year the Pandemic Broke, R&D has continued to flourish in ways we could not fathom.