Early-stage cancer drug pipeline booms as payers dig in for a fight

Over the past two years IMS Health has counted 22 new cancer drugs on the market, a hefty portion of all new drug launches over that period. And by their calculations, the boom is just beginning.

In a new assessment of the cancer drug pipeline, analysts at the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics concluded that cancer therapies now account for more than 30 percent of all preclinical and Phase I clinical development products. Treatment for patients has been transformed in some cases--IMS uses advanced melanoma as an example--as the development of more combo therapies add to the list of potential treatments now available.

Scientists' understanding of cancer has increased dramatically in recent years while the sales side of the business has been eager to market new products that can extend patient's lives, even if they're only talking about a few weeks or months. Regulators, meanwhile, have been helping to accelerate the development of new cancer therapies, shortening R&D timelines in some cases. But the sudden influx of resources and the growth of new drug programs in the field is also likely to accelerate another trend in biopharma: Competition is moderating prices, and that may eventually help chill this category of drug development.

"Although sales for certain recently launched oncology drugs have rivaled those of earlier blockbusters, many new drugs are targeted to small patient populations and face strong competition, resulting in comparatively modest sales levels," reports IMS. "While much of the pipeline is focused on lung and breast cancer, tumor types with lower prevalence such as ovarian, leukemia, stomach and liver cancers also are being actively pursued."

Increased R&D activities will also incite even more scrutiny from payers who are more and more likely to question "incremental" benefits that often range from only two to six months. Says IMS:  "The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently issued recommended targets for meaningful clinical trial outcomes, a useful step to guide those investing in innovation as well as those paying for patient care. In the E.U., there is a trend toward lower list prices at the time of launch compared to U.S. list pricing, and European markets have other discount mechanisms that may be employed across national, regional and local levels."

- here's the release