The pharmaceutical industry continues to rely heavily on sales from “an aging portfolio of drugs”, highlighting again the sectors lack of R&D productivity, claims a new report.

The proportion of total sales from newer drugs has dropped, according to data released in the 2010 Pharmaceutical R&D Factbook complied by CMR International, a Thomson Reuters business. It notes that the majority of sales for the world's drugmakers are derived from the most mature treatments, with the top three drugs for a company on average contributing 44% of total turnover.

The study goes on to argue that a general decline in success rates for new drugs “also has taken its toll on productivity and indicative of this is a doubling of Phase III terminations in the period 2007-2009 compared with those in 2004-2006”. Further analysis reveals that “less than one in 10 drugs reaching 'first toxicity dose' can now expect to be successfully launched”.

The proportion of total sales from drugs launched within the last five years has dropped to below 7%, compared with 8% in 2008, notes the CMR report, which adds that 26 new molecular entities were launched onto the global market in 2009, up from 2008's 20-year low of 21. R&D expenditure dropped by 0.3% in 2009, down from 6.6% in 2008 “and in stark contrast to the growth rate of previous years”, while 17.9% of that spend was allocated to anti-cancer drugs, making it the therapeutic area receiving the largest proportion of investment.

The data shows that “poor productivity in 2009 continued to be exasperated by the low success rate for drugs in late stage development and a decline in sales from new drugs,” said Hans Poulsen, head of consulting at CMR. He added that “the increase in NME launches compared with 2008 offers some positive news” but with data indicating a continued drop in overall success rates, “it remains to be seen if the industry can reverse a ten-year trend in declining R&D output.”

UCB chief - 42% failure rates in Phase III
Safety and efficacy issues are the main cause of attrition in drug development, with 42% of compounds failing in Phase III trials, according to UCB’s chief executive, Roch Doliveux, speaking in Brussels earlier this month, writes Lynne Taylor.

Drugmakers are attempting to deal with this through a range of initiatives such as reaching earlier decisions on drugs candidates – including generating key data that de-risks the project and increases the probability of success – and moving “preferred” candidates faster through R&D to drive efficiency and reduce attrition, he said.

Othres are collaborating more intensely, with shared costs and risk and exploitation of “open innovation,” he told the annual stakeholder forum of the European Union/industry’s Innovative medicines Initiative, adding: “every company realises that no drugmaker or university in the world can address these issues on their own.”