Big pharma, under pressure to bring new medicines to market faster, have been getting more drug candidates into development in recent years and have become more aggressive in terminating unpromising drugs, according to a new study.

The analysis, completed by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, notes that one in six “self-originated compounds” that entered clinical testing at large pharmaceutical companies from 1993 to 2004 was expected to eventually attain marketing approval. Over roughly the same period. the share of such drugs terminated during Phase I and Phase II also increased.

The Tufts CSDD “impact report” also found that for the top 50 global firms, the annual rate at which drugs enter clinical testing increased 31% from 1999-01 to 2002-07, while nearly three-quarters of the drugs in the portfolios of the top drugmakers that reached trials from 1993-07 “originated in and were developed by the firms”. Also, of six specific broad categories analysed, the oncologic/immunologic and central nervous system therapeiutic areas had the greatest number of candidates entering clinical testing between 1993-07.

The study also revealed that the in-licensing of products by the top 50 firms reached a high point at the end of the 1990s. After peaking at 28% for drugs that first entered clinical testing in the 1999-01 period, licensed drugs, “as a share of the total development portfolios of big pharma,” dropped to just under 16% for 2005-07.

Tufts CSDD Director of Economic Analysis and study author, Joseph DiMasi, said that “increasing the pace of new drugs entering development and terminating candidates that are unlikely to succeed is the right combination of trends” that will help the industry deal with patent expirations. He added that the decline in licensing deals “reflects both a reinvigoration of discovery efforts” and a strategy shift that “focuses more on the smaller number of available late-stage compounds to help offset weak short-term growth prospects”.