According to data just released by Parexel, new clinical studies of oncology drug rose by 13 per cent last year - amounting to nearly 15 per cent of the total number of clinical trials that were started. Oncology is one of the key disease areas expected to dominate within drug discovery and development in the coming years. With this in mind, many pharma firms and contract research organisations (CROs) have been jumping on the oncology bandwagon of late. In June, Encorium Group announced its intention to acquire an oncology-focused CRO - Prologue Research International - for $13m, while Ireland's Almac Group announced the creation of a new oncology division that will focus on the discovery and development of "novel and innovative" approaches to treatment in this important disease area. Other therapeutic areas that have been widely tipped for rapid growth include central nervous system (CNS) and endocrinology, and this was also reflected in Parexel's data. Clinical trial starts involving neurology compounds spiked 45 per cent in 2007, up from eight per cent in 2006, and represented almost 11 per cent of the total. New studies for metabolism and endocrinology compounds represented another 11 per cent of the total, although this was in fact a 6 per cent decrease on 2006. Meanwhile, according to Parexel, the overall number of new industry-sponsored clinical trial initiations "surged 12 per cent to a record high" in 2007. The CRO said its analysis showed that the biopharmaceutical industry submitted 662 Investigational New Drug (IND) applications in support of clinical studies for new drugs during the year, up from the previous record of 593 in 2006. The firm also pointed out that IND submissions have been steadily increasing between 2004 and 2007, from 542 to 662 submissions, equating to a 22 per cent increase over the three years. However, in terms of new biological products, Mark Mathieu, director of publications at Parexel said that there has been a "less consistent year-over-year pattern for commercial IND submissions." Company data show that 83 commercial INDs were submitted for biological products in 2007, which was down 27 per cent from the 114 submitted in 2006. "The 114 INDs submitted in 2006 however, represented a 67 per cent increase over submissions in 2005," Mathieu pointed out.