Global research and development (R&D) productivity is under unprecedented pressure, while the model of medicine R&D must be radically re-shaped to meet patient needs, a new landmark study by the Medicines Discovery Catapult and the BioIndustry Association has said.

The joint report, titled State of the Discovery Nation 2018, was based on surveys and more than 100 in-depth interviews with senior executives of UK drug discovery companies. It made a number of findings, including:

  • Global R&D productivity is under unprecedented pressure
  • The model of medicines R&D must be radically reshaped to meet patient needs
  • A key problem is reliance on using inadequate models for human diseases
  • Commercialising emerging technology will require new models of collaboration
  • Data science is now indispensable to medicines R&D: research data is now generated in such high volumes that the ability to harness it has become a critical factor in developing new medicines
  • It is imperative for the UK to provide industry with straightforward, well-governed access to consented patient data and human tissue samples – this is an acute problem for SMEs.

The report also found that the UK’s R&D community is highly fragmented in life sciences. Universities, teaching hospitals, medical charities, large pharmaceuticals and SMEs each possess some of the capabilities and expertise required for drug development. Consequently, collaboration is essential to develop new medicines successfully.

As part of this report the Medicines Discovery Catapult and the BioIndustry Association are calling on the community to address additional cross-cutting themes that require multi-stakeholder solutions:

  • Maximise the supply of investable intellectual property
  • Create more agile routes to enable small companies to work together easily, leading to clinical trials
  • Increase access to stratified human trials
  • Address the skills gap
  • Address the gap in follow-on funding

The need for such change is stark. With the financial burden of disease rising faster than GDP due to an ageing population and the rise of chronic diseases, there is an urgent need for more cost-effective medicine development. Despite this, around 40% of new drugs fail when they are first trialled in a patient and the majority fail at other stages of development. As a result, the number of drugs launched per $1billion of R&D spend has fallen nearly thirtyfold over the last 40 years.

Chris Molloy, Chief Executive of the Medicines Discovery Catapult, said: “The UK has a strong heritage in medicines R&D and a high-profile strategy for our industry. However, in a globally competitive environment, we must now pull together nationally to support the innovators and build the best ecosystem for medicines discovery in the world. It’s our mission, along with our sister Catapult in Cell & Gene Therapy, to help make this happen, which is why we’ve harnessed the intelligence of the community in this report, and have clear actions underway to catalyse positive change.”

Steve Bates OBE, Chief Executive Officer of the BioIndustry Association, said: “Innovation drives medicines development, and SMEs are at the heart of this, thanks to their agility and outlook. However, SMEs fit into a complicated landscape and need help to navigate it. Issues such as access to high quality Intellectual Property, support structures, stratified trials, funding and skills require a systemic approach and can’t be fixed by any one organisation working alone. That’s why we, along with the Medicines Discovery Catapult, are committed to working with others to create long-term solutions to these issues, which will drive productivity and further success in the important years ahead.”

The State of the Drug Discovery Nation 2018 report was launched on 18 January by Sir Mark Walport. For more information on the Medicines Discovery Catapult visit https://md.catapult.org.uk/