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Investigating Trends in the Pharmaceutical Research & Development Space

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The healthcare industry often relies on the success of biomedical advances, which peaked exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the public health emergency has been declared as officially over (as of April 2023 in the United States), developments are leveling off and there is plenty of opportunity for innovations in the realm of drug discovery and development.

A report authored by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science titled “Global Trends in R&D 2024: Activity, Productivity, and Enablers”1 sought to evaluate the trends surrounding new drug launches, along with the amount clinical trials that were initiated. It also profiles the state of R&D funding and the companies’ activities across different indications.

For one, R&D funding has recovered in 2023 after a slump following the 2020-2021 pandemic timeframe. In fact, funding in the biopharma space hit $72 billion in 2023, which, although well below pandemic levels, is an $11 billion boost from 2022. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) jumped from $78 billion in 2022 to the $140 billion mark in 2023. Antibody drug conjugates were a popular area, making up 47% of the M&A deals that were over $2 billion, and 85% of large oncology deals.

It may come as no surprise to hear that trial starts have settled back to below pre-pandemic levels, as a result of the decrease in COVID activity, and evolving research concerns. Compared to 2022, clinical trial starts declined 15% in 2023, and dropped 22% from 2021, which is notably the peak of all the pandemic action. The slowdown could mainly be attributed to three main factors, including:

  • Fewer COVID trial starts
  • Less non-COVID starts by larger companies
  • Fewer starts by emerging biopharma companies

However, trial starts were dominated by predictable subjects, the authors note, as “the top four diseases in terms of trial starts—oncology, immunology, metabolic/endocrinology, and neurology—account for 79% of trial starts and declined less than other diseases. Rare disease trial activity remains high and slowed less than trials focused on larger populations. The disease focus of rare disease research is predominately in oncology, while diseases with larger populations study a wider variety of diseases.”

As a result of the rise in the composite success rate to 10.8%, productivity regarding clinical development was on the rise for 2023, a significant boost from the 5.9% rate in 2022. Increased rates in Phase I, Phase III and regulatory review were contributing factors to this success, according to the report.

Speaking of regulation, the implementation of technology-driven enablers helped with gains in productivity, driven by novel trial designs, the use of predictive biomarkers, and decentralized and digital trial methods.

Worldwide, a total of 69 novel active substances (NASs)—including 24 first-in-class US launches—were launched, which is six more than 2022. This brings the 20-year NAS total to 942; interestingly enough, the United States is currently leading the way with 267 NAS launches over the past five years, with China and the European Union/United Kingdom rounding out the top three with 192 and 182, respectively.

The weight loss sector—often tied to obesity—has also been growing in popularity not only lately with the Wegovy craze,2 but over the past 30-plus years, says IQVIA, noting that “obesity is a major public health threat globally; the rates for the disease have been increasing steadily over the last three decades and is likely to affect 1 billion adults by 2025.”


1. Global Trends in R&D 2024: Activity, Productivity, and Enablers. IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. February 2024. https://www.iqvia.com/insights/the-iqvia-institute/reports-and-publications/reports/global-trends-in-r-and-d-2024-activity-productivity-and-enablers?utm_campaign=2024_GlobalTrendsinR%26D2024_INSTITUTE_IS&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua&elqTrackId=CD8102741FFF8CBDFB75E9B0977A664B&elq=1c2c3fdb25fe411e8d8e8050e47fab9b&elqaid=21700&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=12669

2. Hollan, Mike. Implications of Novo Nordisk Acquisition of Catalent Reverberate Through Industry. Pharmaceutical Commerce.February 14, 2024. Accessed February 22, 2024. https://www.pharmaceuticalcommerce.com/view/implications-of-novo-nordisk-acquisition-of-catalent-reverberate-through-industry


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