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Which company has the industry's best R&D pipeline?

Published on 25/11/05 at 11:11am

Take part in Pharmafocus' industry poll on the leading product pipelines

The pharma industry has experienced another turbulent year of change in 2005, with continuing safety concerns about products, generic challenges to major brands and pressure to tighten up marketing practices all testing the nerves of senior executives.

But AstraZeneca's soon-to-retire chief executive Sir Tom McKillop said the ever-changing nature of the industry has been exaggerated.

Speaking to the Financial Times, in one of his final interviews as AstraZeneca chief executive, Sir Tom McKillop said: "This industry comes down essentially to new products. Three things are important: products, products and products. If I had to add a fourth, it would be people, because they generate the products."

Most investors would agree with this analysis, and with this in mind, the Pharmafocus & InPharm Career Survey this year includes a vote on the industry's best pipelines.

See below for a brief overview on four of the most highly tipped pipelines - GSK, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis.

You can vote for these or any company of your choice by visiting:


After a long wait  and a rough ride for GSK's top management, the company could be poised to revive its fortunes with a wave of new drug candidates.

In February 2005 GSK had increased the number of projects in clinical development by 80% since its creation through a merger in 2001. This totals 88 new chemical entities, 32 product line extensions and 20 vaccines.

Just under half of these 88 NCEs are in phase II, with a comparatively small number - 11 - in phase III.

A number of late-stage products are generating excitement: lapatinib for breast cancer and other tumours is one of three new medicines expected to be filed by GSK in 2006. Another exciting product is Cervarix, the vaccine to protect women against the human papillomavirus virus implicated in causing many cases of cervical cancer.

16,000 people work in GSK's global R&D in more than 20 sites worldwide. Around 40% of GSK's global R&D budget is spent in the UK, and 45% of the global R&D workforce are located there.


The Swiss pharma giant spent $3.5 billion on pharmaceutical R&D in 2004, allowing it to launch 13 new medicines over the past four years - the highest number of any pharmaceutical company.

January 2005's R&D review provided positive updates on five of its ten top priority compounds, including aliskiren and FTY720, two first-in-class medicines, in hypertension and MS respectively.

The company's late-stage pipeline is one of the industry's most innovative, with six of its 10 lead compounds a first-in-class drug. But in March, the risk of an innovative pipeline became apparent. Phase III results for PTK/ZK, the colorectal cancer drug being co-developed with Schering, showed it had failed to meet its primary endpoint and now looks likely to be axed.

Despite this setback, Novartis has an exceptionally high level of new drug filings planned for the next few years - four in 2006 and five in 2007, with at least the same number expected in both 2008 and 2009.


Pfizer is the world's biggest pharmaceutical company and invests more than any other in R&D, spending $8 billion in 2005.

By its own pace-setting standards, 2005 has been a very difficult year, with worse than expected third quarter results hitting profits, with chief executive Hank McKinnell withdrawing earnings guidance for the next two years.

This means Pfizer will need its pipeline to deliver more than ever, and the scale and breadth of Pfizer's pipeline remains formidable. Dr John LaMattina, president of Pfizer's global R&D revealed in April 2005 that its pipeline had grown to 149 new molecular entities, with 102 of these in early development, 33 in mid-stage development, eight in advanced development, and another six in registration. In addition, it has 78 active line extension projects in development.

Pfizer is now preparing a follow-up to its all-conquering Lipitor. Torcetrapib, now entering phase III trials, is a novel compound designed to raise HDL (or 'good' cholesterol) and is being paired with Lipitor to create a next generation product to prevent and treat atherosclerosis.

Pfizer has not traditionally been strong in oncology and to remedy this, the company has made it the second biggest area of R&D spending and LaMattina says it is one of the most promising therapeutic areas in Pfizer's pipeline.

New monoclonal antibody drug Sutent is being studied in difficult-to-treat cancers such as renal cell carcinoma and gastrointestinal stromal tumours and is expected to be filed in early 2006.

As pharma's No.1, Pfizer also has its pick of the best R&D partners, and has signed a new licensing deal or acquisition at the astonishing pace of one every two weeks during 2005.


Following its merger in 2004, Sanofi-Aventis R&D centres emerged with 11,500 research staff working in more than 20 research centres on three continents.

A review of its pipeline produced a portfolio of 128 compounds under development, including 48 in either phase II or III.

Sanofi-Aventis' annual E4 billion R&D expenditure supports one of the broadest pipelines in the industry, covering seven major therapy areas: thrombosis, cardiovascular disease, internal medicines, CNS, metabolic disorders, oncology and vaccines.

A handful of phase III drugs are generating investor excitement as they approach the filing stage.

Chief among these is Acomplia (rimonabant) the new obesity/smoking cessation drug, which continues to generate headlines thanks to its apparent 'wonder drug' properties in helping smokers quit their habit and lose weight at the same time. Despite concerns about some patients experiencing depression side-effects in trials, the drug looks to be on course for approval in early 2006, with the first global launches expected later in the year.

Just ahead of Acomplia is Exubera, the first-in-class inhaled insulin drug which was approved in the US and Europe, and not withstanding a final regulatory hiccup, is also expected to become a $1 billion plus blockbuster at its peak.

Meanwhile, a number of equally promising compounds are sprinkled throughout the company's phase III portfolio - including xaliproden for Alzheimer's disease, teriflunomide for MS, two depression treatments and an HIV prophylaxis vaccine reaching proof of concept stage.

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You can vote for these or any company of your choice by visiting:

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