EP Vantage 2018 Preview

PHARMACEUTICALBy Amy Brown, Edwin Elmhirst, and Jon Gardner

You are always asking us give you a pulse on the industry. One of the leading industry sources is Evaluate with their research on commercial intelligence. In this issue we include highlights from their 2018 Preview, which has a great deal of in-depth data on what to expect in all sectors of the industry. The full report can be found here. ~ Editor

The biopharma sector is approaching 2018 in a position of strength. Novel medicines are reaching the market more quickly than ever before; in the past few years large and small drug developers have successfully launched transformative products in a number of therapy areas; investor support for private and public companies is strong; and global demographics signal rising demand for healthcare.

But for those looking ahead, what should alternative hypotheses test? That 2018 holds even more promise? Or that the pace of progress is unsustainable? There are arguments to be made for both statements. On the regulatory front, it looks unlikely that the US FDA will swing towards a more conservative stance; the past few years have seen concerted efforts to speed approvals of the most urgently needed new medicines and, more recently, low-cost generics. There are perhaps more uncertainties in Europe, which is grappling with the relocation of the European Medicines Agency post-Brexit. But even here the regulator has made attempts to become more transparent and proactive.

Over the past few years, these regulators have ushered in ground-breaking medicines that promise to shift the outlook for patients suffering from a wide variety of chronic and acute conditions—and reward their developers richly. Many of these scientific leaps forward—like CAR-T or RNA therapies—are expected quickly to become commercial success stories. But how these new launches actually fare in markets that are increasingly sensitive to cost will be closely watched in 2018.

On many measures, 2018 should start strongly for the biopharma sector: closely watched stock indices are not a million miles off 2015’s peak, demand for IPOs and secondary fund raisings is strong, and the coffers of venture investors are well stocked. The need for large companies to stock pipelines will never wane, while regulators are sending industry a clear message—deliver the innovation and we will approve it.

Here are some highlights from the report:


“R&D successes and failures are probably going to be the biggest driver of sentiment next year, all other things being equal,” says Ben Yeoh, senior portfolio manager at RBC Global Asset Management. “The immuno-oncology space continues to be a barometer—there will be a lot of attention there.” (figure 1)

  • The FDA green-lighted 46 novel drugs in 2017, which are forecast to be generating more than $32bn in US sales in five years’ time. (figure 2)

Other products to watch in immuno-oncology:

  • Bristol’s Checkmate-227
  • The overall survival result from AstraZeneca’s Mystic study, which failed to hit on progression-free survival at the first reading .
  • Roche’s surprising hit on progression-free survival in the Impower-150 trial in November. If Tecentriq’s advantage over a well-established treatment regimen is confirmed, Roche will find itself in a strong position. (figure 3)

In addition to immuno-oncology, other news that could generate headlines in 2018:

  • Spark’s progress with what is likely to be the first gene therapy in the US
  • Roche’s newly approved novel hemophilia treatment, Hemlibra (emicizumab)
  • CAR-T therapies Yescarta and Kymriah: initial uptake of these cutting-edge therapies will be closely watched to help evaluate the future value of these and rival therapies –and help judge whether Gilead’s $12bn acquisition of Kite was worth it. (figure 4)


  • M&A expectations were brought into sharp relief during October’s tumultuous third-quarter earnings season for many large cap biopharma companies. Missed expectations and mounting concerns for the growth prospects of the likes of Celgene and Biogen, for example, caused a significant selloff
  • Complaints about unrealistic valuations have been cited as a reason for the quiet M&A scene. Whether asset prices are too high remains an ongoing debate.


  • Three years of pharma-bashing have yielded almost no US action on drug pricing and even President Trump appears to have lost interest. His appointment of a former Lilly executive, Alex Azar, as Health and Human Services secretary is surely another positive sign for the sector
  • The checkpoint inhibitors Keytruda and Opdivo arrived in 2014 and in only two years had cumulatively generated revenues of $8bn
  • In 2017, sales of the five anti-P(L)-1 antibodies now on the market are expected to reach $10bn
  • There is plenty in the pipeline that could go right next year. Regulatory stances are unlikely to shift suddenly, and truly innovative therapies are being reimbursed. Throw in a couple of big deals and an absence of aggressive pricing rhetoric, and the outlook improves even more. (figures 6-9)

“If you look at the pace of R&D, there has probably never been a better time for a lot of science,” says RBC’s Mr. Yeoh.“We’re curing cancers that we’ve never cured before, we’ve got new drugs for MS, new treatments for diabetes.

Costs aside, we are still making progress on human health.”

That progress will continue in 2018, however confident investors are feeling.


As an addendum to the EP Vantage 2018 Preview, here’s further prognostication about the year ahead, compiled by the sales enablement experts at Seismic in a survey of 200 healthcare and life sciences professionals in marketing, sales, IT and operations.


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