Cancer drug approvals have doubled over the past decade, due to smarter R&D

In the 1980s only 4% of the drugs that were approved by the FDA were cancer treatments, but since 2010 cancer treatments have secured 27% of the new approvals. These claims come from a report from the Tufts Centre for the Study of Drug Development.

This meteoric rise has been accredited to pharma companies taking a smarter approach to drug development with a focus on developing novel mechanisms for treating cancer and further validating them with clinical trials that have been improved in their design and efficiency. This is supported by the fact that Pharma companies can now identify new gene targets as well as design trials around patients that are more likely to respond to the treatment.   This coupled with the FDA’s push to increasing its efforts to speed up medicines to market that address unmet medical needs can also explain this new wave of cancer treatments.

According to Tufts, the development timeline for cancer drugs was 9% longer than it was in other diseases from 1999 and 2018, but the time taken for the FDA to approve it was a dramatic 48% shorter. This is because cancer drugs are much more likely to receive special designations from the FDA designed to speed up the regulatory process.

A particular sub-section of cancer treatments that seems to be generating a lot of these approvals are kinase inhibitors. With Wall Street firm, SVB Leerink finding that kinase inhibitors have driven nearly $100billion in M&A since 2010. Furthermore, FDA also seem to have their eyes on kinase inhibitors, with 77% of the kinase inhibitor products being evaluated under priority review.
The big downside to all these cancer approvals is that it does not come cheap to either party be that the pharma companies and the healthcare system. With Tufts estimating that the cost for developing any prescription drug amounting to $3bn and oncology manufacturers spend on average $13m just on the launch phase for a single cancer drug in one indication.

As a result of these huge expenses, companies have to drive prices to recoup these expenses. With the 15 oncology drugs approved in 2018 coming with an annual median cost of $149,000.

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