The top 10 news stories for FierceBiotech in 2013

Anyone who follows my Twitter stream knows that web traffic at FierceBiotech and the life sciences group has exploded over the past year. Year-over-year the numbers are up 64%, breaking the 1 million mark in October. And this year's examination of our top 5 stories of the year says a lot about what works when you're creating a presence on the world wide web and how it can also deliver super-sized audiences on some odd bits of work.  

In part, the traffic burst has been triggered by a growing social media effort, with readers looking to Twitter and LinkedIn to pick up more of our stories. But as we've rated a more prominent place in the world of Google News, we've also picked up various streams of traffic that don't fit the traditional mold of industry insiders and the investment community.

As a result, Emily Mullin found her story--First successful transplant of retinas made from embryonic stem cells--going viral in a big way for us. Transplanting light-detecting cells in the eye was one of those dramatic, discovery-stage breakthroughs that catch people's attention, putting us on the big screen with a large audience around the world.

Our second most popular story for the year--Merck's 'breakthrough' PD-1 cancer drug in showdown with Bristol-Myers combo--fits a more traditional framework for Fierce. This story out of ASCO spotlighted one of the biggest trends in biotech, with checkpoint receptor inhibitors emerging as one of the most exciting new classes in cancer R&D. The fact that Merck ($MRK) was holding on to one of the top prospects in the field, after enduring a long drought in R&D, helped capture some excitement for the field.

Our third story is a complete online fluke. We've been hosting a mother lode of IPO stories this year as the market window finally creaked open in a big way, the first real market opportunity since the 2008 crisis, and we posted a fine piece on Foundation Medicine's initial pitch. Nothing against Foundation Medicine, they had one of the hottest IPOs of the year, but this story still regularly racks up viewers even though it's seriously dated. The Internet giveth, sometimes in ways that's hard to calculate, but I know an outlier when I see it.

Damian Garde came up with perhaps the best headline at the best time of the year for us: What happens to the FDA in a government shutdown? Regular readers were intrigued, and so was a wide swath of the general public as the government stumbled ever closer to the first shutdown in 17 years.

That interplay of public interests and our work on research breakthroughs was also on display with our fifth most popular story of the year: Johnson & Johnson, Evotec bask in Harvard's breaking diabetes discovery. When Harvard stem cell researcher Doug Melton outlined the discovery of a hormone that could emerge as a new mechanism of action for one of the great epidemics of the 21st century, the market responded with a quick surge for Evotec's shares. The biotech had in-licensed the work two years ago, and sub-licensed it to none other than J&J ($JNJ). Turn to the next 5 stories on our top 10 list and you'll find more of our bread-and-butter reporting.

Pfizer picks up the pieces after its armed antibody crashes in PhIII--Pfizer failed to find success for the late-stage antibody-drug conjugate, a setback for a major pharma company looking to pioneer new drugs. 

Gilead's sofosbuvir cures some of the toughest hepatitis C cases--The treatment of hepatitis C is undergoing a revolution, and sofosbuvir is at the forefront of the new drugs coming along that will quickly eradicate the use of interferon--a treatment well known for its harsh impact on patients. This story wasn't particularly noteworthy as far as Top 10 stories go, but the response indicates the eagerness out there to see new treatments come along.

Boehringer celebrates FDA OK for lung cancer drug afatinib--The FDA handed oncologists another weapon in the fight against lung cancer when it approved Boehringer Ingelheim's afatinib. A diagnostic test is used to identify the portion of the late-stage patient population most likely to respond to the drug, which is sold as Gilotrif.

Roche/Genentech's breakthrough T-DM1 wins blockbuster OK for breast cancer--This was one of the most important new drug approvals of the year, and the industry was eager to learn more about the implications. Truly innovative new drugs are rare, as we all know, and it was fun to see this pioneer achieve relatively quick success with the regulators. Longtime observers will note, though, that the FDA could have shown some mettle by providing an accelerated approval for T-DM1, now Kadcyla. Hopefully, future therapies equally as promising won't face the same holdup.

Struggling Merck slashing 8,500 jobs in major R&D, commercial reorganization--Merck's R&D organization has emerged as one of the greatest disappointments in the industry. By the time Roger Perlmutter was named as the new R&D chief in 2013, the drought could no longer be ignored or papered over by cheerful PR and confident interviews with the financial press. This story was unexpected, as Merck had long insisted that everything was fine. It was totally predictable, though, for any serious student of R&D.

Over the course of this year we've written and emailed more than 250 reports with well over 1000 top stories on biotech. And our daily pharma and medical device reports have duplicated that effort, with weekly reports on a slate of issues, like pharma manufacturing, drug delivery, preclinical research work, and much more. Our reports are opened about 93,000 times a day, by readers spanning the globe. Next year, our cumulative web traffic should exceed 14 million hits, if we stay on the same upward trajectory.

I can't wait to see what that Top 10 stories will look like. -- John Carroll, Editor-in-Chief. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.