True Pharma Innovation Lies in Quality, not Quantity, of Approvals, say FDA Analysts

We’re already embroiled in the annual speculation game about whether FDA approvals this year will keep pace with last year’s near-record of 39 new molecular entities (NMEs) brought to market. The tally is closely watched as a sign of the state of biopharmaceutical innovation and the health of the pharmaceutical industry and biomedical research enterprise.

But this focus on the quantity of new drug approvals is misleading, according to FDA analysts, because it fails to distinguish between truly innovative new therapies and those that are similar to medicines already on the market, explains Mike Lanthier, operations research analyst on the economics staff of FDA’s Office of Planning. While all NMEs offer some therapeutic advantage, those that are “first-in-class” and “advance-in-class” medicines represent important advances, he explains. Alternatively, “addition-to-class” therapies may provide useful options for patients, but not substantial advances over existing products. And it is this last category that has experienced the much-hyped decline in approvals in recent years, while more vital therapies are holding steady or increasing in number, Lanthier points out in an FDA Voice blog posted Aug. 6, 2013. This “more nuanced and informative” assessment of NME categories thus refutes fears of an “innovation gap” that threatens drug discovery.

One factor may be a rise in small biopharma companies developing more innovative drugs, while large drug companies have focused on refining blockbuster drugs for large patient populations. NMEs from small companies have increased notably since 1996 and now account for 50% of approvals, compared to roughly one-third in the past, Lanthier and colleagues explain more fully in an article in the August 2013 issue of Health Affairs.

FDA initiatives also may support these developments. Most innovative NMEs have benefited from priority review treatment, and the new breakthrough drug program and added incentives for new antibiotics and pediatric treatments promise to expedite the development of innovative therapies. It’s also possible, the authors say, that the increased influence of large pharmacy benefit management firms reduces reimbursement for pricey drugs that lack proven benefits.

Another measure of biopharma innovation may be the number of new drug applications filed with FDA, although the quantity-over-quality measure also may apply here.

Pharma’s Shifting Needs for Scientific Talent

Developing and maintaining the right labor pool is an ongoing challenge for any industry, and it is one that the pharmaceutical industry also is facing. Recent attention in the pharmaceutical industry has focused on the restructuring that has occurred and that is still occurring among the large pharmaceutical companies. And while re-allocating resources, including labor resources, is always a crucial task for companies, it is a challenge made even more difficult amidst shifting industry fundamentals and a demand for higher productivity from scientific talent.

The pharmaceutical industry requires employees with a high-end scientific skill set, and PwC’s 2012 Global CEO Survey indicates that pharmaceutical companies are having a hard time finding the right people. A recent report by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) takes a look at how changes in R&D models have affected the pharmaceutical workforce.

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From Raw Materials to Lifecycle Management: IBC’s Biopharmaceutical Development and Production Week

Amy RitterAt the end of February, sunny southern California will be the site for a week-long conference devoted to the development and production of biopharmaceuticals. Read more »

Era of the Biosimilar: The Inevitable Change

Stephanie Sutton Pharm Tech EuropeBiosimilars. They bring cheap prices to patients and healthcare payers, but for biopharmaceutical companies, such products impact the sales of innovative biopharmaceuticals. The pros and cons of biosimilars have been under discussion for some time in the bio/pharma industry, but the debate is now gaining increased momentum as the US moves closer to solid guidance concerning the development of biosimilars. Read more »

Will “Robust Pipeline” Yield More New Drugs?

Jill Wechsler Washington EditorBiopharmaceutical companies are touting their huge investment in R&D, which has filled the drug pipeline with more potential first-in-class medicines, including orphan drugs, personalized medicines and new therapies based on novel scientific strategies. A report by the Analysis Group for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) documents more than 5,000 new medicines in the pipeline globally, many for untreated diseases and life-threatening conditions. The promise is that this more robust pipeline will lead to more new critical therapies for patients. Read more »

Eli Lilly Chairman Stresses the Importance of Biopharmaceutical Innovation on the Economy

The recent presidential and vice-presidential debates have highlighted the need for strategies for economic growth in the US, including the roles innovation and trade play in stimulating the US economy. Eli Lilly Chairman, President and CEO John C. Lechleiter recently weighed in on the issue with respect to the pharmaceutical industry in offering his perspective on the importance of including data exclusivity provisions for biologics as found in US law for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional free trade pact in Asia under negotiation.

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Strategies for Effective Biologics Outsourcing Examined at CPhI

Patricia Van Arnum PharmTech editorBiologic-based drugs are increasingly important in the drug pipelines of pharmaceutical companies. Strong growth is projected for biologic-based drugs, and a crucial issue is whether the outsourcing model for biologic-based drugs will follow a similar path as the model for outsourcing small-molecule development and manufacturing or will new paradigms emerge. That question was addressed at one of the sessions at the CPhI Pre-Connect Conference this week in Madrid. Read more »

Biopharma Industry Set to See New Technologies and New Therapies

Stephanie Sutton Pharm Tech EuropeA new report has forecast that the global biopharmaceutical market will be worth more than $320 billion by 2020, up from just $138 billion in 2011. According to global business intelligence firm GBI Research, annual revenues for biopharmaceuticals have been rising year on year since 2001. In 2011, biopharmaceuticals accounted for 15.6% of the total pharmaceutical market. Read more »

An Important Addition to the National Bioeconomy Blueprint

Patricia Van Arnum PharmTech editor The Obama Administration released last week the National Bioeconomy Blueprint. The report outlines steps that federal agencies will take to drive the bioeconomy—economic activity powered by research and innovation in the biosciences—and details  ongoing efforts across the federal government to realize this goal. Given the importance of biotechnology to the pharmaceutical industry, does the plan do enough? Read more »

Nanofactories: The next frontier in protein synthesis?

Patricia Van Arnum PharmTech editor Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently developed nanoparticles that can be controllably triggered to synthesize proteins. The hope is that particles could be used to deliver small proteins that kill cancer cells and eventually larger proteins such as antibodies that trigger the immune system to destroy tumors. Read more »

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