The focus of research and development (R&D) programmes in the pharmaceutical industry will shift from generating a relatively small portfolio of high-revenue blockbusters to high-efficacy treatments for narrower patient populations based on specific genotypes, a new report predicts.

With US$65 billion worth of drugs expected to go off patent over the next four years, pharmaceutical companies “must dramatically rethink their R&D models for future success”, warn consultants Deloitte. They see the traditional blockbuster template being replaced by strategies that “support the assembly of treatment portfolios for the entire disease life cycle and the various genotype-specific patient segments in the life cycle”.

According to Deloitte’s report, The Changing Face of R&D in the Future Pharmaceutical Landscape, the new model will incorporate virtual, disease-specific networks including patients, physicians and the medical treatment infrastructure.

This will involve “extensive partnering and collaboration with all the disease knowledge communities”. There will also be virtual R&D processes with “significant outsourcing to maximise flexibility and manage development risk”.

Deloitte says the “fundamental disruption” of the drug industry as it now stands will create both opportunities and threats for existing players, while stimulating the emergence of new sector entrants “configured specifically to succeed in the changed pharmaceutical landscape”.

Pharmaceutical companies “cannot rest of their laurels”, insists Dr Terri Cooper, a principal in the Life Sciences practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP. “They need to be looking outside of their four walls to develop partnerships and collaborations with a network of companies, scientists and organisations to fuel R&D developments and reduce time to bring new drugs to market.”

Another spur to radicalism and genuine innovation in research and development is the rising tide of consumerism in healthcare, Deloitte points out. A recent Deloitte Center for Health Solutions report found that 84% of consumers surveyed preferred generics to brand-name drugs if given the choice.