Over the past few years, there's been no end of discussion about the need to find more efficient ways to discover and develop new drugs. Giants like GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Sanofi ($SNY) and Pfizer ($PFE) have been retooling pipelines and demanding better results from investigators. New analysis, meanwhile, has pointed to the persistent megablockbuster cost of drug development at most companies, as consultants and analysts pondered the effects of a long drought in the approval process.
Last year, pharma did better on the development front, seeing a modest increase in new drug approvals, which helped inspire talk of a turnaround. But long after all the economizing and efficiency reviews have been launched, R&D expenses continue to go up. This past year, the top 10 collectively registered expenses of a bit more than $70 billion, up slightly over the year before, according to the figures we collected.
Pfizer has yet to deliver on the bulk of the $1.5 billion in cost cuts that it has promised--though that is still in the works. And faced with paltry results from R&D, AstraZeneca ($AZN) is ordering some deep cuts. So the trend to ever-higher annual expenses may yet be challenged by the Big 10. But for every big cost-cutting effort, you'll see more examples of big companies holding the line or spending slightly more. Companies like Novartis ($NVS), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Merck ($MRK) show no sign of backing down on R&D budgets--though this year at least two of those companies are going to face growing demands to either put up impressive pivotal data or start changing strategies.
Drug research remains one of the ultimate long shots in the tech industry. Finding a rational balance between what's spent and what's produced will continue to be one of the biggest challenges the industry faces. -- John Carroll, Editor-in-Chief. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.