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Analysts say pharma R&D returns challenged by drag of high costs

Published on 16/12/15 at 03:27pm
Return on investment
Credit: Blue Diamond Gallery

The projected rate of return on pharma industry research and development has more than halved since 2010, from 10.1% to 4.2%, according to new industry research.

A five-year study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions says the decline in R&D return on investment is largely due to the “growing imbalance between declining forecast peak sales and increasing asset development costs.” For example, since 2010, forecast peak sales per asset have fallen by almost 50%, while the average cost of developing an asset has climbed by a third.

Since Deloitte’s study began in 2010, the original cohort of 12 pharma companies researchers tracked has launched 186 drugs, with estimated total revenues of $1.26 billion. The study also found the R&D divisions of these companies have progressed 306 assets into late stage pipelines, with total forecast lifetime revenues of $1.41bn for the companies with the highest R&D spending.

However, while the overall projected rate of return on R&D is at its lowest since the study began, there are still some promising signs across the industry. These include: assets retaining or marginally increasing their forecast revenues as they progress through late stage development, the negative impact of terminations falling significantly this year, and 2014 being a headline year for approvals, with 43 products approved.

The findings indicate that the following strategic factors may also have an impact on R&D returns:

•     Speciality therapeutics offer opportunity across all therapeutic areas. There is an increasing focus on specialised therapeutics, with opportunities in both specialty and primary care therapy areas. “Companies need to ensure that any shift to specialty care is not at the expense of potential opportunities within primary care markets,” the report warns.  

•     Companies with a consistent therapy area focus are forecast to deliver higher value assets and R&D returns.

•     Smaller companies are projected to deliver higher R&D returns. The report says larger companies have struggled to generate returns as effectively as their smaller counterparts, as the analysis shows it costs larger companies more to develop their assets, which reduces their returns. “This shows that any economies of scale from bigger portfolios have been offset by infrastructure and complexity costs,” it finds.

•     External innovation is important for all sizes of company. Companies’ forecast late-stage pipeline values are both heavily reliant on external sources of innovation.

Neil Lesser, principal and life sciences R&D strategy lead at Deloitte US, concludes: “This year’s report highlights that it’s a testing time for pharma R&D. While the outlook shows uncertain times for the industry, the solutions appear to be relatively straightforward. Focusing on fewer core therapy areas, and building end-to-end scientific, regulatory and commercial capabilities in those areas, may provide the greatest chance of holistically addressing the complexity of successfully bringing a drug to market.

“In these focus areas, employing a host of external innovation mechanisms as a core part of the R&D model is vital to creating a sustainable pipeline. Finally, being bold to reduce development complexity, streamlining functions and addressing unproductive infrastructure, should allow pharma to improve R&D returns.”

Lilian Anekwe

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