4 Developments Likely to Disrupt the Pharmaceutical Industry

disruption pharmaceutical industry (Patrick Hoesly)

What's going to shake things up in the pharmaceutical industry? I thought I'd take a look at some of the issues and developments that might be likely to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry in the near future.

1. Biosimilars

Now that many of the first generation biologics – drugs that are made from human and animal materials – have reached, or are about to reach, patent expiry, there's been a rush to market cheaper, highly similar versions of the blockbuster branded biologics. The world market for biosimilar drugs is set to grow by 20% from 2012 to 2013, reaching a value of $2.445 billion for the whole of 2013, according to a report from visiongain (read the press release), and IMS Health estimates that $US64 billion in global biologic sales will be off-patent by 2015. However, there are many challenges that face biosimilar developers, including legal and regulatory issues that are still the subject of much debate. With the list of ‘at-risk' biologics including massive revenue-earners like Herceptin, Humira and Remicade, biosimilars look likely candidates to rock the pharmaceutical industry over the next few years.

READ MORE: The Top 3 Companies Set to Dominate US Biosimilar Market

Biologic best-sellers and their biosimilars to keep an eye on

2. Social media

According to a new report by Weber Shandwick, 75% of online adults in the US have looked for health information online in the past year, and the figures are likely to be similar in Europe. "Patients are increasingly harnessing the internet to gain knowledge about health conditions and even self-diagnose, leading to a more empowered health consumer and contributing to more informed patient-physician discussions," said Laura Schoen, President, Global Healthcare,Weber Shandwick. In today's "open 24/7" world, concludes the report, it is riskier not to engage in social media than it is to engage. The Weber Shandwick report outlines "10 Rules of Engagement" for pharma companies to maximise their social confidence. Pharma companies are increasingly realising the benefits of monitoring and assessing social media postings, especially in the field of vaccines where GSK analysed discussion forums for parental concerns about vaccines, and researchers publishing in The Lancet analysed 10380 vaccine-related media reports from 144 countries over the course of a year for overall positive or negative sentiment towards vaccines. With more and more of the global population engaging online, social media offers pharma unprecedented access to end-users' ideas, concerns, wishes and anxieties.

READ MORE: 10 social media strategies pharma must know

3. Big data

An article by McKinsey recently outlined how big data and analytics could be a key element in helping pharma R&D increase success rates and boost pipelines. Big data could optimize innovation, improve the efficiency of research and clinical trials, and deliver more individualized approaches to healthcare. A massive amount of data is amassed not only from research and clinical trials, but also from retailers and end-users. According to the McKinsey article, effective utilization of these data can help the pharma industry to better identify and develop new drug candidates. Some applications of big data envisioned in the article include sophisticated predictive modelling of biological processes, real-time clinical trial monitoring, and the targeting of specific populations to enable shorter, less expensive and more powerful clinical trials. Next-generation genomics could be one technology set to benefit massively from big data potential, with the latest big data analytics capabilities allowing for a much greater understanding of how genetic variation can impact on disease. A desktop gene-sequencing machine could bring cheap and rapid gene sequencing straight into the doctor's office and enter us into an era of personalized medicine.

READ MORE: Genomics one of top "disruptive technologies" of the future

4. Pricing

Back in April, 100 oncologists rallied against the high prices of some cancer drugs, stating that the costs were astronomical and unsustainable. In this era of orphan and ultra-orphan drugs, the prices charged for some rare disease therapies have rocketed to over $400,000 a year, and anger over the high price of some drugs is brewing. Bernard Munos recently wrote a piece in Forbes entitled "We The People vs. The Pharmaceutical Industry." Here he highlights that astronomical drug prices are becoming the norm, noting that of the 12 cancer drugs approved in 2012, 11 carry a price tag of more than $100,000. But is that the cost of good R&D? Perhaps not, as Munos argues that the pharma industry isn't a prototype for efficiency. An annual output of 25 to 35 new drugs, says Munos, is a lousy return for the industry's $135 billion in R&D spending. Reading the comments to the Forbes piece, there's mention of a need for a "Pharma Spring" to dramatically reduce healthcare costs. Drug companies are "badly misjudging the brewing anger", says Munos. Do you agree? Do you think the need industry needs to control pricing? How might R&D costs be brought down?

What do you think about the issues I have listed? Do you agree or disagree? What other issues do you think are likely to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry? Why not join our discussion on LinkedIn, or leave a comment below.

If you want to know more about biosimilars, you might be interested in attending the World Biosimilar Congress 2013, 12-13 November 2013, which brings together buyers and sellers from across the biosimilar and biobetter industry.

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