Pharma turns to tech, cross-industry collaboration as ROI declines: Report

By Melissa Fassbender

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/alphaspirit)
(Image: Getty/alphaspirit)

Related tags Technology Pharma R&D

The industry looking to new technologies and cross-industry collaboration to tackle declining ROI – as R&D has become an area in which companies can no longer “go it alone,” according to a new report.

The Pistoia Alliance and Clarivate released The Life Sciences Innovation Report, which was developed with inputs from executives at GSK, AbbVie, Cancer Research UK, and Diavics.

The report identifies five key trends for 2019:

  1. Multi-disciplinary innovation
  2. The implementation of new technologies
  3. New approaches to research
  4. The digitization of R&D and health care
  5. Academic contributions to biologics drug R&D

Christopher McKenna, global head of life sciences professional services and consulting at Clarivate Analytics said the report clearly shows that pharma is innovating, “and that pace of innovation is accelerating.”

“One challenge, however, is many great new drug targets and innovation opportunities often don’t get pursued because, at the time a clinical candidate decision is being made, there is not rigorous commercial diligence, so the tendency is to play it safe and choose less,”​ he told us.

To address this challenge, McKenna said market sizing, patient stratification, biomarker development, and competitive intelligence analysis all need “to happen faster and be available at the right time.”

“This is one of the main crossroads currently, innovation output of new drugs is increasing, but overall ROI in the top pharma companies is declining,”​ he added.

A combination of heightened global competition, tougher regulatory standards, and continued cost pressures have made innovation in R&D more important than ever, according to McKenna.

“All of this is putting pressure on companies – it’s no wonder organizations are beginning to look towards new technologies and a collaborative approach to make research more effective and cost-efficient,”​ he added.

This need for cross-industry collaboration is the overarching theme of all the 2019 trends – and one of the report’s key takeaways, said Dr. Steve Arlington, president of The Pistoia Alliance.

Now more than ever, Arlington said R&D is an area in which companies can no longer “go it alone.”

“Whether precision medicine, immunotherapy, or microbiomes – success in these areas will rely on cross-disciplinary knowledge being shared between all stakeholders,”​ he said.

Among these stakeholders is academia, the role of which this year “is set to become more vital as researchers look to expand on existing discoveries,”​ said Arlington, noting that academia’s contributions have already led to innovations across genetic and cellular therapies.

In line with this, McKenna noted he was surprised by the number of academic institutions leading biological target innovation, compared to the small molecules “where pharma is clearly the leaders, as expected.”

McKenna also called the rate of change in therapeutic modality innovation “stunning,”​ as cell therapy, synthetic biology, and genetic therapy continue to contribute to new drugs.” And while growth was expected, the rates at which the newer therapies grew was higher than he expected – especially for antibody-drug conjugates and bi-specific antibodies.

This increasing rate of change is being driven in part by shifting budgets, which have enabled the use of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning – innovations that McKenna said will play “a significant role”​ this year, and in the future.

However, a lack of common data standards could slow the adoption of new technologies.

“Companies have a plethora of tools in use, and data formats vary considerably – this data needs to be standardized and formatted so it can be easily shared between interested parties,”​ added Arlington, who stressed the opportunities posed by advances in technology. “It’s here AI and machine learning have the potential to unlock value and lead to new treatments that can improve the lives of patients worldwide.”

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