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Research and development for prescription drugs is thriving

Pills in a hand
Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In 2018, a record 59 new drugs were launched — a portfolio that makes it clear that development is increasingly geared toward specialty drugs, according to a new IQVIA report.

By the numbers: Almost half launched with orphan drug status for the use that was being approved, meaning they were designed to serve small patient populations.

  • Oncology was the therapy with the most new launches — 16 — followed by infectious disease, which saw 12 launches.
  • One-third were identified as first-in-class, and 39 were specialty drugs.
  • A little less than half were approved based on trials with less than 500 people.

Small biopharmaceutical companies are playing an increasing role in the R&D ecosystem.

  • Emerging drug companies held the initial patents on 64% of the drugs launched in 2018, but about half of last year's drugs ultimately came to market via a larger pharma company.

Big Pharma is spending a huge amount on R&D. The top 15 largest companies spent more than $100 billion on R&D for the first time last year.

Go deeper: Pharma's research budgets are usually bigger than its profits