Study examines R&D productivity decline


Why has biopharma R&D productivity declined in the past two decades, especially when companies like ours continue to invest heavily in the search for new medicines?

Researchers from Europe examined this very question and their findings appeared in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery last week. As far as we know, this is the largest and most comprehensive study on the subject ever published. (As the article acknowledges, AstraZeneca and other industry members provided grants for this research and assistance with the economic analysis and study design.)

“The cost of developing a new drug has increased, as have total R&D expenditures, while the rate of introduction of new molecular entities has at best remained approximately constant and attrition rates have risen sharply, especially in late-phase clinical trials,” the authors said.


After reviewing more than 28,000 compounds investigated in Europe, the United States and Japan since 1990, the study authors found that “this decline is associated with an increasing concentration of R&D investments in areas in which the risk of failure is high, which correspond to unmet therapeutic needs and unexploited biological mechanisms.”

These are areas where the science is particularly complex and previously unexplored. It also means the risk of failure is particularly high, but so are the rewards for people who could benefit from our findings.

The authors assert that “without the reorienting of R&D efforts, R&D productivity would have remained almost constant.”

To those of us at AstraZeneca, these findings mean that we must continue to push the boundaries of science to find new medicines that make a difference for the people who need them.

– By Laura Woodin