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What's ahead for 2018 in the pharma industry?

Posted on: 29 Mar
The pharmaceutical industry is always evolving to keep up with the latest trends in business and in the world of healthcare. 2017 was a year of change, with a new President picking up the reins in America, and the UK setting in motion one of the biggest political shifts in modern Europe: Brexit. Despite that, the past twelve months have also been some of pharma’s most innovative, with new trends like biosimilars, generics and orphan drugs taking centre stage as a clear indication of where the market is heading in the future. 

2018 looks to be just as exciting, with steady growth in the market, and more and more companies taking advantage of the possibilities that new technology offers to make groundbreaking new discoveries and develop new avenues within healthcare. 

Here’s what’s ahead.

High stocks and moderate growth in the market

2017 was a rocky year for the pharma industry, with market uncertainty and changes in U.S. tax laws slowing down growth. Despite this, the stock market continued to grow, and will likely continue to do so well into 2018, with investors less concerned than before about crackdowns in drug pricing and trading shares at high prices.

However, the market itself has slowed down, due to a drop in funding for R&D, pricing issues and lower rates of growth in emerging markets around the world. The global pharmaceutical industry will likely grow only slowly over the next five years: correspondingly, the industry will need to find new ways to innovate and expand its client offerings into new areas if it wants to grow significantly in the future.

Emerging markets

Despite this, the pharmaceutical market is also experiencing somewhat of a change, as new countries begin to emerge onto the global scene. Though America is expected to dominate the market over the next five or so years, contributing around 53% of all forecasted growth, China is quickly becoming a major player too. With a huge population, new measures passed by the government to encourage a faster process of drug approvals, and new technologies which makes it easier to connect patients with doctors. China’s market will likely boom over the next few years, it’s forecasted to grow to almost $1.1tn by 2020.

However, other countries are also becoming forces to be reckoned with, such as Saudi Arabia which is one of the largest pharmaceutical markets in the Middle East. The country pledged to increase its spending in pharma, almost doubling it to $400million by 2020, and making regulatory changes aimed to localise the pharma industry, promote healthcare and develop the private sector. Expect Saudi Arabia to become an investor’s hotspot over the next few years, along with rapidly-growing areas like Latin America and Indonesia which are investing millions into developing their own market and attracting investment and thereby shifting the market focus away from America and onto a more diverse global pharmaceutical market.

Speciality diseases will become more popular

Though cardiology and diabetes have been earmarked as the top areas for growth within the pharma industry in 2018, rare and speciality-disease drugs are also on the rise, and may actually dominate the market in 2018. In the past, many companies have relied on large disease populations for revenue, however today many are making the switch to developing treatments for rare diseases. Due to favourable regulations across the U.S. and Europe, orphan drugs can be some of the most expensive drugs on the market, with a patent that lasts fifty years and can bring in millions in revenue for the company that develops and sells them. With the market in speciality-disease drugs set to hit $127bn by 2018, it looks like it will actually overtake mass-distribution drugs when it comes to return on investment.

Have a more in-depth look at why orphan drugs are gaining in popularity in our article here.

Big Data will tick upwards

Big data was one of 2017’s buzzwords, promising to transform the R&D industry, and it’s certain to remain popular over 2018. It’s been estimated that applying big-data strategies to R&D could be worth $100bn every year across the U.S. Healthcare system. With the potential to improve the efficiency of clinical trials, and generate vast amounts of data, both in trials and from the healthcare apps that patients are increasingly using to monitor their health, big data could be a goldmine for researchers. Able to analyse vast amounts of data to spot previously unseen trends, create predictive models of biological processes or drugs, and provide doctors, regulators and consumers with the ability to individualise their treatment, big data is surely going to be a major factor within pharmaceuticals over the next twelve months.  

Technical breakthroughs in nanotechnology and genetic engineering

With vast leaps in technology have come new ways of researching and developing groundbreaking medical treatments. Recent years have seen groundbreaking breakthroughs in areas like gene-editing, with CAR-T and CRISPR technologies which are capable of editing genes and DNA moving one step closer to mass-market use - and thus the potential of being able to address and cure previously incurable diseases like Cystic Fibrosis or even cancer. Over 2018, expect more investment and more research to be made in this area than ever before: though it’s new, it’s got massive potential.

The rise of generic drugs

Similarly, expect generics to take centre stage over the coming months. A slew of expiring patents will release more generic drugs into the market than ever before, thus raising the possibility of lowering prices in the overprice pharmaceutical market. Though there will be strong market opposition from companies wanting to protect their interests, more generics will likely be approved over 2018, bringing down prices and forcing companies to start innovating, as customers abandon their products in favour of cheaper alternatives. 

Patient-oriented healthcare 

One of the biggest changes that technology is bringing to the pharmaceutical market, however, is increased patient contact. The internet, smartphones and apps now mean that healthcare can be accessed anywhere, at any time: as a result, many firms are moving towards a new approach for engaging their patients, where their customers are better informed about the drugs that they are taking and given better tools to manage their subscriptions. In an age of increased competition, pharma companies are taking steps to ensure and develop customer and patient loyalty; this means that many are investing in improving communications with those patients, from Novartis’ app aimed at rehabilitating heart failure patients to reaching out to clinical research patients and recruiting them through social media. This also has a side benefit, as this more advanced technology is providing companies with a slew of fresh data that can in turn be used to better their products. 

More innovation and growth

Big changes are on the horizon in pharma. From the market opening up to advances being made in everything from gene-editing technology to apps that inspire better communication between patient and company, pharma is moving with the times and innovating its client offering. The next twelve months will undoubtedly be very interesting: watch this space.

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