The biopharma industry has high ambitions to improve therapies for patients across many disease categories, drawing on a wealth of technological advances that have been emerging and maturing in recent years. Even after the mass mobilization against COVID-19, it is clear from the responses of the executives we surveyed that the sector has retained significant firepower to deploy across the disease spectrum.
“There continues to be a very exciting pipeline of innovations, launches coming up, and new disease areas that we can tackle, and new mechanism of action to bring more options to diseases that we have,” said PwC principal Greg Rotz.
“We will see the overall size of the R&D pipeline continue its inexorable expansion in 2021,” predicted Ian Lloyd, senior director at Informa Pharma Intelligence’s Citeline Pharmaprojects drug development database. “People might think that the COVID-19 pandemic knocked pharma R&D off its stride in 2020, but, aside from some temporary trial delays, I don’t think it’s had a hugely significant effect. The overall pipeline size grew by another 5.4% during 2020, although it’s true this was fueled in part by new drug developments against the novel coronavirus itself.
“Pharmaprojects reports over 500 drugs tackling the virus directly, over 300 vaccines, and over 250 drugs (some repurposed) tackling COVID-19-based complications – incredible when you think that the virus was virtually unheard of this time last year. I suspect that, especially if vaccine rollouts are successful, we will see some contraction in these numbers during 2021, especially in direct antivirals. But this will be more than compensated for by the ongoing surge in new developments for cancer and rare diseases, which will continue unabated.”
Emmanuel Hanon, senior vice president of vaccines R&D at GlaxoSmithKline plc, pointed out that drug development is being fueled by widespread technical innovation. “New technologies will continue to change the industry, increase the pace of discovery, manufacturing, and new innovative partnerships to further advance science and technology. I am excited about 2021 because we will be able to use a bigger and better toolbox of technologies for vaccines and pharmaceuticals than we have ever had, and we will be able to contribute to meeting one of the most extraordinary challenges of our times and build new capabilities coming out of it,” he told Scrip.
Identifying some of the hot areas to watch in 2021 was Jonathan Drachman, president and CEO of Neoleukin Therapeutics, Inc., which designs proteins to treat serious diseases. “Biotechnology and pharma will continue to see breakthroughs with emerging and new technologies in 2021, including mRNA and gene therapies, targeted protein degradation, and better, more precise regulation of the immune system. Oncology will see evolution as combinations of biological therapies offer the potential for long-term remissions in more patients with advanced cancer,” he said.
Lihua Yu, president and chief data science officer at Eisai Co., Ltd.’s precision oncology subsidiary H3 Biomedicine, told Scrip that oncology and rare diseases would remain core areas of focus “largely due to three factors: unmet medical needs; in depth understanding of disease biology and disease-defining and -driving genetic events; and our expanded access to different therapeutics modalities.”
Yu singled out protein degradation and CRISPR gene editing as hot topics. “If we look at bigger picture, the broad adoption of genomics looks very similar to the broad adoption of internet in the past 25 to 30 years,” she told Scrip. “It plays a foundation and platform role to allow transformative innovations to happen quickly and broadly…If you combine genomics and disease insights enabled by genomics, expanded therapeutic modalities, and digital transformation including machine learning and artificial intelligence, you come to the realization that transformative innovations are happening across all parts of biopharma industry value chain. In 2021 and beyond, we will continue to see new ventures in all those areas. I am also looking forward to see new cases of clinical translation and validations of the new disease insights and new therapeutic modalities.”
We have organized the predictions of nearly 100 industry leaders according to disease area, technology type and other themes.