The pharma industry is betting big on the success of oncology, rare disease and orphan drugs, according to an IQVIA report released on Tuesday.
More than a quarter (27%) of drugs launched last year were intended to treat cancer or its symptoms, and 20% were developed to treat infectious diseases, according to IQVIA’s report examining the research and development landscape. There were 16 oncology drugs and 12 each of infectious disease and orphan drugs, according to the study.
In 2018, there were 59 drug launches, higher than the previous five years. It was a year of first-of-their-kind drugs, with half of the launches carrying an orphan drug designation and a third classified as first-in-class by the Food and Drug Administration.
The report reflects a shift in pharma from developing mass-market drugs to specialty treatments, especially in cancer and rare diseases.
Another shift is the type of companies bringing drugs to market. Emerging biopharma companies, defined as those that are past the startup phase and have one to three products on the market, patented nearly two-thirds of new drugs and registered 47% of them, according to the report. Large pharma companies patented just one-quarter of new drugs, but filed 44% of them, representing licensing deals and acquisitions often struck between emerging biopharma and large pharma corporations.
The drug-development process remains slow, with the average drug taking 13.7 years to go from patent filing to launch. However, that average is two years faster than the average in 2017 and 2016. Pharma and the FDA are also using methods to speed up the approval process. More than 70% of new drugs came through FDA pathways meant to accelerate the process.
On the research side, cancer drugs were also the largest slice, making up 29% of the drug pipeline. The number of pain drugs in late-stage development increased by 52% from 2013 to 2018, especially in non-opioid and non-narcotic painkillers.
The overall number of drugs in late-stage development, Phase 2 or later, also jumped by 11% in 2018 to a total of 2,891. That increase was paired with a jump in spending on R&D. Large pharma R&D spending broke $100 billion for the first time in 2018.
More investment in drug development is coming from venture capital. In 2018, there were 1,308 life science venture capital deals with an overall value of more than $23 billion. Venture capital investment has grown 15% annually over the past five years.