Posted on January, 01 - 0001

The five trends defining medicines innovation

The five trends defining medicines innovation


Bernard Mallee

Director of Communications and Advocacy at Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association

It's the start of a new year - and the dawn of a decade.

So, what will the coming year in biopharmaceutical innovation bring? No one really knows.

But here are five predictions: 

1. Innovation will intensify. Biopharmaceutical innovators have brought new therapies to patients that are transforming the trajectory of disease. They are working on even more advanced ones - like cell therapies that can treat deadly blood cancers by reinfusing patients with their own engineered immune cells to tackle the illness. In the longer run, companies will target trickier solid tumours. At the same time, scientists are making progress on gene therapy by replacing faulty DNA to cure genetic diseases. And, after a slow start, cancer immunotherapy is making big gains. 

2. Public payers will seek more savings. Innovation does not come cheap. But innovation that isn't affordable counts for little. Politicians everywhere are grappling with how to rein in healthcare costs without breaking an ecosystem that incentivises the search for new discoveries. It is up to the industry to find ways to work with policymakers so that patients get the most out of innovation. The trick is to balance the need to sustainably fund innovation against an already-stretched healthcare system. The new deal on the pricing and supply of medicines is a chance for industry and the State to work this one through.

3. China will keep rising. Healthcare is improving. By cutting red tape and fast-tracking approvals for drugs already greenlighted by regulators in Europe, the US or Japan, China is giving its rapidly ageing population access to the best treatments. According to Deloitte, 51 innovative drugs, 80% of them from global biopharmaceutical companies, were approved in 2018. That's up from just five in 2016. At the same time, China has a vibrant biotechnology start-up scene. And it is making progress in next-generation treatments. In 2018, the number of clinical trials for CAR-T, a form of cell therapy, outpaced those in the US, according to McKinsey. China is leveraging its large concentrated patient base, lower manufacturing costs and more relaxed regulatory environment to take a bigger slice of the global biopharmaceutical market share.

4. The patient voice will get louder. Health systems, both in Ireland and globally, are heeding patient voices in decision-making more than ever before. Patients' voices are now in the mix for medicines development, reimbursement, connected health, and clinical trials and research. That trend should continue as both industry and policymakers understand the importance of patients' perspectives as the end-users of the products and services they are designing and delivering.

5. Silos will be gradually dissolved. Digital technology and traditional medicine are combining in a way that is transforming health management. Digital therapeutics and diagnostics are reshaping our understanding of medical conditions and helping to personalise interventions. Data will play a much bigger role in the evolution of healthcare innovation, with outcomes tracked and measured so that improvements can be made in treatments and how we pay for them. The lines between the major players in biopharmaceuticals, technology and medical technology will, over time, blur.

It's all ahead of us.

Happy new year.