Despite COVID-19, pharma R&D funding at all-time high: IQVIA

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(yalax/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(yalax/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags IQVIA M&A funding R&D Clinical research COVID-19

According to the clinical research solutions firm, disruptions due to the pandemic did not stop the industry from fueling R&D at unprecedented levels.

The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science has released its latest industry latest report, Global Trends in R&D: Overview Through 2020. According to the findings, research and development funding maintained historically high levels, thanks to new funding sources, strategic transactions, and other activity.

Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma about the report. He shared perspective on what the document reveals about the industry’s optimism, ingenuity, and innovation.

OSP: Could you share a ‘nutshell’ description of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science? What sorts of information do you pursue, and how do you expect/hope the reports you share will be harnessed by folks in the life sciences?

MA: The IQVIA Institute undertakes independent research for publication, drawing upon the information and expertise of IQVIA, and focuses on improving understanding of critical healthcare issues around the world, including the role of medicines in patient care, the disruptive impact of technology, productivity in research and development, and the value of information in improving decision-making.

Reports by the Institute are widely cited by policy-makers, referenced in peer-reviewed research and in news stories. The Institute regularly interacts with the life sciences sector in a range of forums, roundtable discussions, and through the dissemination of our research findings

OSP: It doesn’t need to be said that COVID-19 created a staggering pile of challenges for pharma firms and their research partners. What do the findings of your survey say about how they managed to overcome these challenges?

MA: The report provides evidence of the extent to which the biopharmaceutical innovation industry maintained its focus on - and commitment to – its core R&D mission during 2020 despite the disruption and the reprioritization of clinical trial activity that was required to maintain ongoing research programs, while also pivoting to support the global efforts to pursue COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. This reflects the ability and agility of the industry to adapt and advance in the face of a crisis. It also demonstrates how the combined efforts of all players – in the private and public sectors – can yield unprecedented results.

OSP: What do the findings reveal about how they tackled the challenges?

MA: The research in this report shows that companies redoubled their efforts to sustain their research program following the peak period of disruption in March and April of 2020. The number of new clinical trial starts fell sharply, but from June through the end of 2020 (and into 2021) the number of clinical trial starts – even without COVID-19-related trials – exceeded the prior year’s level. In collaboration with regulatory agencies, companies modified their clinical trial protocols and activities, including the use of virtual methods of monitoring, data collection, and care delivery.

We show a sharp increase in the number of remote, virtual or decentralized trials, with the number of these trials doubling in 2020 compared to the 2018 levels. These brought new approaches to the conduct of trials and the success of the very large and rapidly executed COVID-19 vaccine trials using these speaks to their effectiveness.

OSP: You mention that expansion of data use helped improve trial design and accelerate execution—how do you expect this to play out in the coming months, as we (hopefully) get further into post-COVID life?

Murray Aitken, executive director, IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science

MA: We recognize that the pandemic has brought a reckoning to many of us, both personally and in terms of business practices. We see that COVID-19 can be a catalyst for positive long-term change.

In particular the use of technologies to drive efficiencies in the planning and execution of clinical trials, including site identification and prioritization, study subject outreach and recruitment, use of eConsent tools, through to remote site monitoring, electronic data capture, and use of sensors and devices by study participants that reduce (though not eliminate) the need for in-person contact with study investigators.

These are all technologies and data uses that were happening prior to the pandemic but in many respects were often in their infancy. Because of their successful expanded use during 2020, we can now foresee a maturing of these elements of R&D that can improve the productivity of clinical development significantly in the coming years.

OSP: Oncology treatments continue to climb; what other therapeutic areas saw notable increases, decreases, market shares, etc.?

MA: We highlight in the report changes in the number of late-stage pipeline products from 2019 to 2020. Besides the very large increase in oncology drugs, we saw an increase of about 350 neurology drugs, 230 GI products, and 217 molecules focused on infectious diseases. We saw no significant declines in any areas, though small decreases in the number of dermatology products and hematologic agents.

OSP: We also saw a healthy amount of M&A activity, and partnerships between like-minded companies (frequently a big firm joining with a smaller). Do you see that continuing in the coming months/years?

MA: M&A activity has always been an integral part of the biopharmaceutical ecosystem and we expect this will continue. One area we do include in our report is the growing number of Emerging biopharma companies (those with less than $200m in R&D spending and less than $500m in global sales per year) that both originate and file FDA regulatory submissions.

In 2020, these companies represented 40% of the new drug launches, similar to the level of the prior two years, but double the levels seen in the 2011-15 period. There can be many reasons for this, including the shift in the mix of new drugs toward those with orphan designations, the availability of capital through other financing means, the ability to utilize third-party vendors to provide integrated clinical development and regulatory submission services, etc. This does suggest that the traditional models of big firms joining with smaller start-ups may be changing.

OSP: Do you have anything you’d like to add?

MA: We are pleased to bring this information to those involved in the life sciences sector – and other stakeholders. We are in a period of immense scientific and medical advances, with a strong and resilient industry, working together to address the remaining significant unmet health needs that exist.

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