Roche and Novartis are the only two out of a group of 10 leading pharmaceutical companies with at least one targeted drug therapy on the market which are likely to become leaders in the field of personalised medicine, says a new study.

The report classifies the two companies as "disruptors," ie, those able to competitively reshape therapy areas via personalised medicine. Both Roche and Novartis have the capacity to "upset normal competitive dynamics in a specific therapy area by shaping payers', regulators' and physicians' expectations of value," according to Peter Keeling, chief executive of change management and consulting firm Diaceutics, which carried out the research.

The firm's review of the 10 leading drugmakers, which classifies them according to their potential to capitalise on opportunities in personalised medicine, sees at Roche an excellent capacity for personalised medicine innovation and a robust strategy in the field, while Novartis has more recently focused on building its internal molecular diagnosis unit and has developed a clinical pipeline with a focus on personalised medicine, it says.

The next rank after the "disruptors" are "breakaway" companies, ie those positioned - based on the carefully selected, proactive investments which they have made - to migrate their operating models and corporate structures in order to successfully commercialise targeted therapies.

Diaceutics finds four such "breakaway" firms - AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer - which, it believes, are likely to accelerate their activities and improve their commercial infrastructure for targeted therapies over the next 24-36 months. It judges all four companies as having roughly equal potential to commercialise targeted therapies, but believes that AstraZeneca, Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb, with their internal personalised medicine strategy teams, will likely be better organised internally to develop potential therapies and companion diagnostics. Pfizer, on the other hand, has a promising clinical pipeline for personalised medicine, it adds.

Whether these four attain "disruptor" status depends on whether their boards and senior management decide to migrate to a future culture and infrastructure based predominantly on personalised medicine, says the study.

The four remaining companies - GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Amgen and Merck & Co - are rated as "followers," ie, most likely to respond to the actions of other companies.

"Followers" have few commercial successes in this space and thus little commercial experience, and are more likely to strive to maintain their existing business models, rather than adapt them for personalised medicine, says the report. 

Most drugmakers say they are ready for personalised medicine, and their development pipelines are filling up with opportunities, says Diaceutics, whose report finds that 46% of all new therapies currently in Phase III R&D could benefit from a personalised medicine strategy. Other studies have suggested that only 10% of such therapies are potential personalised medicine/targeted therapies, but the firm believes that the standard definition being used in the industry is narrow.

"In fact, any therapy that will directly benefit from a new or reshaped diagnostic approach should be considered personalised medicine," according to Mr Keeling. Moreover, the analysis finds that, in contrast to the belief held by many firms that personalised medicine will create smaller markets or less revenue, about half of the companies assessed in the report have a personalised therapy currently on the market that is near or above blockbuster-level sales of $1 billion.