R&D returns are getting better, but not by much and not for everyone, report says

After three years of declining returns on R&D spending, the 12 largest operations have finally achieved an uptick in what they receive for each dollar of outlay. But the result is more of a bottoming out than a major turnaround, with returns still well below levels seen in 2010 and at least one company posting a negative yield.

Deloitte's Julian Remnant

The data were collated by Deloitte for its annual report on the return from biopharma R&D, which has become an increasingly downbeat read over the past few years. Last year, the return on investment sunk to around 5%--half of the level achieved in 2010--and Deloitte's stab at the contentious cost of getting a drug to market was $1.3 billion. Now though, some metrics have improved. Not by much, but after three years of ever-decreasing returns the uptick is welcome.

Returns at the 12 largest R&D operations rose to 5.5%. However, the reversal comes despite continued increases in the cost of developing a drug. "We continue to see a relentless rise in the costs to develop a new medicine--this year to [$1.4 billion]--with little change to the billions of dollars of value lost from products failing in the final stage of development," Julian Remnant, head of Deloitte's European R&D advisory practice, said in a statement.

The 5.5% figure also hides huge variation from company to company. Deloitte tracked performance at Pfizer ($PFE), Roche ($RHHBY), Novartis ($NVS), Sanofi ($SNY), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), AstraZeneca ($AZN), Merck ($MRK), Eli Lilly ($LLY), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Takeda and Amgen ($AMGN). One of these companies achieved returns of 11.7%. Another scraped together negative 0.7%.

Having looked at--but not publicly named--the winners and losers of 2014, Deloitte has a few ideas about what it takes to succeed, or at least not fail as badly as the competition. The data show return on investment is inversely correlated with R&D spend, so the biggest companies get the least bang for their buck. And companies that focus their pipelines on a few therapeutic areas seem to do better.

- read the release
- here's the report (PDF)
- and Reuters' take