Things like gene editing, stem cells, immunotherapies and new types of biologics are now mega-trends in the pharmaceutical industry, widely covered in media, and I guess there is little doubt that biology is the next big thing in medicine. However, in this post I would like to outline several hot areas in small molecule drug discovery, suggesting a lot of untapped potential and investment prospects in this more “traditional” pharmaceutical research space.
Over the past decade, pull incentives as a solution to the broken antibiotic market have been proposed to entice companies into antibiotic research and development. These incentives would essentially provide a market, and therefore a return on investment for pharmaceutical companies. Almost all of today’s inadequate antibiotic pipeline is provided by biotech and small pharma. All are threatened with loss of investor interest because of the failed marketplace and many are experiencing difficulty in raising funds either from public or private markets. One alternative to providing money to the “evil” pharmaceutical industry via a substantial pull incentive is to create publicly funded non-profit organizations or public-private ventures that would essentially replace the industry in antibiotic research, development and commercialization. Two proponents of this approach are Lord Jim O’Neill (of the O’Neill Commission or Antimicrobial Resistance Review fame) and Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy and of GARDP. Both, clearly, are key thought leaders in the area.
A background context -- opportunities and challenges
Current widespread interest towards artificial intelligence (AI) and its numerous research and commercial successes was largely catalyzed by several landmark breakthroughs in 2012, when researchers at the University of Toronto achieved unprecedented improvement in the image classification challenge ImageNet, using their deep neural network “AlexNet” running on graphics processing units (GPUs), and when that same year Google’s deep neural network managed to identify a cat from millions of unlabeled Youtube videos, representing a conceptual step in unsupervised machine learning.
Nowadays mobile devices are ubiquitous with an estimated number of smartphones and tablet PCs to exceed two billion globally.
The availability of internet connection in most public places, powerful processors, and user-friendly touch screen technologies make mobile devices useful not only for spare time activities but also for education and science.
Specialized mobile apps are ubiquitous in the area of healthcare providing value for medical doctors, as well as patients involved in various healthcare programs and therapies. Those include various apps for assisting clinical decision making by doctors, apps for monitoring physiological parameters of patients in real time, apps for managing doctor-patient interactions, apps for self-monitoring various health conditions and physiological parameters (for example, did you know you can identify a dangerous wart on your body using your mobile phone?) etc.
Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly outsourcing research activities to academic and private contract research organizations (CROs) as a strategy to stay competitive and flexible in a world of exponentially growing knowledge, increasingly sophisticated technologies and an unstable economic environment.
The R&D tasks that firms choose to outsource include a wide spectrum of activities from basic research to late-stage development: genetic engineering, target validation, assay development, hit exploration and lead optimization (hit candidates-as-a-service), safety and efficacy tests in animal models, and clinical trials involving humans.
According to a recent analytical report by Visiongain, drug discovery outsourcing will continue to grow over the next decade and will rise to a $43.7 billion dollar industry by 2026, as compared to an estimated 19.2 billion in 2016 (or $21.2 billion according to Kalorama Information). This is in line with Vantage’s fresh alliance benchmarking study, revealing that over 80% of bio-pharma respondents report increased alliance activity compared to five years ago. Getting ideas and expertise from external sources is a well-established practice in the pharmaceutical industry with about one-third of all drugs in the pipelines of the top ten pharmaceutical companies initially developed elsewhere, according to a 2014 WSJ article by Jonathan D. Rockoff.