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New report reveals global R&D productivity is ‘under unprecedented pressure’

New report reveals global R&D productivity is ‘under unprecedented pressure’

Medicines Discovery Catapult

4 min read Partner content

The State of the Drug Discovery Nation unveiled as new report provides vital insights for the development of new medicines

A new joint report ‘State of the Discovery Nation 2018’, by the Medicines Discovery Catapult and the BioIndustry Association, launched by Sir Mark Walport on 18 January 2018, provides unique insights into the productivity of the UK’s drug discovery community and the challenges and opportunities it faces. 

The first sector survey of its kind following the launch of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy in November, and focused on the SME community, shows the UK has great strengths in its scientific foundations. However, at a time of unprecedented industry change, urgent action is needed to make the R&D model more productive. 

With the financial burden of disease rising faster than GDP due to an ageing population and the rise of chronic diseases, there is an urgent need for more cost-effective medicine development. Despite this, around 40% of new drugs fail when they are first trialled in a patient  and the majority fail at other stages of development. As a result, the number of drugs launched per $1billion of R&D spend has fallen nearly thirtyfold over the last 40 years . 

This new report, based on surveys and over 100 in-depth interviews with senior executives of UK drug discovery companies, shows that global R&D productivity is under unprecedented pressure. In response to this, world leading opportunities exist for the UK to reshape the medicines discovery process to develop medicines greatly needed by patients. 

The report highlights that the model of medicines R&D must be radically reshaped to meet patient needs. A key problem is the reliance on using inadequate models for human diseases and that commercialising emerging technology will require new models of collaboration to make it happen.

The report also shows that data science is now indispensable to medicines R&D: research data is generated in such high volumes that the ability to harness it has become a critical factor in developing new medicines. It’s also imperative for the UK to provide industry with straightforward, well-governed access to consented patient data and human tissue samples, which is an acute problem for SMEs.

The report found that the UK’s R&D community is highly fragmented in life sciences. Universities, teaching hospitals, medical charities, large pharmaceuticals and SMEs each possess some of the capabilities and expertise required for drug development. Consequently, collaboration is essential to develop new medicines successfully.

As part of this report the Medicines Discovery Catapult and the BioIndustry Association are calling on the community to address additional cross-cutting themes that require multi-stakeholder solutions: maximise the supply of investable intellectual property; create more agile routes to enable small companies to work together easily, leading to clinical trials; increase access to stratified human trials; address the skills gap; address the gap in follow-on funding.

Responding to the report Chris Molloy, Chief Executive of the Medicines Discovery Catapult, says the UK has a strong heritage in medicines R&D and a high profile strategy for the industry, "However, in a globally competitive environment, we must now pull together nationally to support the innovators and build the best ecosystem for medicines discovery in the world.  It’s our mission, along with our sister Catapult in Cell & Gene Therapy, to help make this happen, which is why we’ve harnessed the intelligence of the community in this report, and have clear actions underway to catalyse positive change.”

Aisling Burnand OBE, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Medical Research Charities added:

“The UK’s medical research charity sector plays a vital role in the UK’s R&D. We know first-hand that patients, their relatives, and carers have unique experience which is invaluable to this process. This important report is a step towards enabling patients and medical research charities to be involved at the heart of R&D. It gives a shared vision for a humanised future of drug discovery.”

For more information on the Medicines Discovery Catapult visit

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