Current Pharmaceutical R&D Pipeline Trends

A look at recent pharma development landscape reports and resources.

Amidst soaring healthcare costs and increasingly competitive market conditions on one hand, scientific innovation and increased demand for access to care on the other, the pharmaceutical pipeline emerges as a sort of dynamic R&D gauntlet that bridges the gaps between supply and demand, discovery and marketability, patient care and profit.

Within this constantly changing landscape, trend-watching is critical. In this piece, we examine current trends in the pharmaceutical R&D pipeline, focusing on top products and therapeutic categories.

Drug Pipeline Growth Areas 

While current R&D covers a range of treatments and therapeutic areas, several major trends are clear. First and foremost, cancer drugs are king, with oncology treatments dominating both current and projected drug pipelines. Other major growth areas include immune therapies, biologics, rare-disease drugs and neurological treatments.

A number of recent reports provide details and data about critical aspects of the pharma pipeline. Readers may wish to review the full reports for in-depth analysis of market and sales projections, company and product performance, industry projections and disruptors. Here, we will examine the reports from an R&D perspective to provide a glimpse of what is most likely to emerge from the pipeline in the months ahead.

Pipeline 2016 Facts and Figures

Citeline’s Pharmaprojects Pharma R&D Annual Review 2016 report provides an excellent breakdown of the top therapies in the R&D pipeline for 2016 (summarized below, see full report). Cancer drugs dominate the field, comprising nearly 1/3 of all drugs currently in development.  First, the report lists pipeline drugs by therapy group, providing the number of drugs in the current pipeline for each:

Therapeutic Categories R&D Projects
Anticancer 4,176
Biotechnology 4,051
Neurological 2,513
Anti-infective 2,221
Reformulations 2,080
Alimentary/metabolic 1,999
Musculoskeletal 1,499
Cardiovascular 950
Immunological 869
Respiratory 855
Dermatological 831
Sensory 725
Blood & clotting 608
Genitourinary 597
Hormonal 254
Antiparasitic 121

A second breakdown lists the top 25 therapeutic categories used by Pharmaprojects to classify drugs. Here again, cancer therapies are the clear leader. The categories are ranked numerically by number of R&D projects:1

Therapeutic Categories R&D Projects
Anticancer – Other 2,071
Anticancer – Immunological 1,597
Prophylactic vaccine, anti-infective 729
Antidiabetic 592
Ophthalmological, other 546
Anti-inflammatory 475
Reformulation, fixed dose combinations 473
Recombinant vaccine 469
Immunosuppressant 437
Monoclonal antibody, other 432
Antiviral, other 424
GI inflammatory/bowel disorders 424
Cognition enhancer 419
Gene therapy 417
Monoclonal antibody, human 412
Analgesic, other 403
Musculoskeletal 401
Neurological 388
Biosimilar 386
Cardiovascular 375
Recombinant, other 349
Monoclonal antibody, humanized 345
Reformulation, other 325
Antiparkinsonian 321
Cellular therapy, other 314

A third breakdown, this one showing the top 25 diseases and indications, again reveals an overwhelming R&D interest in cancer therapies. 15 of the 25 listed indications are cancer-related.

In World Preview 2015, Outlook to 2020, EvaluatePharma examines key trends in pharma and biotech, including top therapy areas and R&D outlooks. The report highlights the rise of biotech, specialty pharma, small molecules and biologics, painting an optimistic picture for pharma and biotech between 2015 and 2020.

In an analysis of projected market share and sales growth, EvaluatePharma’s analysis finds, once again, that oncology will remain the leading segment through 2020. The top 15 markets identified by the report, by therapy area, include:

  1. Oncology
  2. Anti-diabetics
  3. Anti-rheumatics
  4. Anti-virals
  5. Vaccines
  6. Bronchodilators
  7. Sensory organs
  8. Anti-hypertensives
  9. MS therapies
  10. Immunosuppressants
  11. Anti-coagulants
  12. Dermatologicals
  13. Anti-hyperlipidaemics
  14. Anti-fibrinolytics
  15. Anti-bacterials

The report provides in-depth analysis of the top five markets, offering breakdowns of sales, key companies and products, market share and projected growth.

Medical Marketing and Media’s 2016 pipeline report, Big-Time Upside, identifies six key therapeutic categories, then provides a breakdown of key companies and products in each. Once again, oncology makes the leaderboard, along with autoimmune treatments and orphan (i.e., rare-disease) drugs:

  1. Autoimmune
  2. Cardiology
  3. Metabolic
  4. Oncology
  5. Respiratory
  6. Other (including neurology, orphan drugs, infectious disease and women’s health)

The report notes that biosimilars are a factor, as newer biosimilar treatments may “upset biologics’ market share.” PCSK9 inhibitors, targeting high cholesterol, are also significant, along with potential breakthroughs in MS and diabetes. However, the report makes clear that cancer drugs still rule, explaining that “oncology boasts the most noteworthy R&D innovations of late.”

In From vision to decision: Pharma 2020, PricewaterhouseCoopers emphasizes pharma’s current concentration on biologics for cancer and rare diseases. PwC notes that there are 460 rare-disease therapies currently in the R&D pipeline in the following treatment areas (listed in descending order by number of drugs in development):

Cancer 107
Cancer, blood 79
Genetic disorders 67
Neurological disorders 37
Other 37
Cancer, skin 31
Infectious diseases 31
Transplantation 20
Autoimmune disorders 18
Respiratory disorders 14
Blood disorders 12
Eye disorders 11
Gastrointestinal disorders 10
Cancer-related conditions 10
Cardiovascular diseases 6
Growth disorders 5


The PwC report also identifies new forms of medical intervention entering the R&D pipeline, including vaccines, human-computer interfaces (nanoparticles and implantable devices, for example), and regenerative medicine.

In Drugs to Watch 2016, Thomson Reuters identifies seven emerging therapeutics slated to enter the market in 2016. All are expected to achieve “blockbuster sales status by 2020.” Based on sales forecasts drawn from the Thomson Reuters Cortellis database, this field of “drugs to watch” is slightly more diverse than some of the others discussed here. Potential blockbuster treatments include drugs for chronic liver disease, HIV, hepatitis C, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Parkinson’s disease psychosis, and pulmonary arterial hypertension.  (For further discussion of would-be blockbusters for 2016, see FierceBiotech’s top ten list.)

Pharmaceutical R&D Predicted Developments 

The pharmaceutical pipeline is the locus of intense competition, potential scientific breakthrough, and the never-ending search for the next blockbuster therapy. R&D for 2016 is rife with cancer therapies, vaccines, biologics and treatments for rare and autoimmune diseases. Innovation and novel interventions are always possible, however, so there are always potential surprises lurking within the predicted developments.

Stakeholders in the industry, including life sciences information, competitive intelligence and regulatory professionals, benefit from a working knowledge of key trends and treatments. Today’s Phase 1 molecule could be tomorrow’s game changer, so we will continue to monitor the progress of current pipeline products.