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Perspectives on Big Pharma's Focus Therapeutic Areas

Posted by Matt Breese on Jan 15, 2016

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Pharmaceutical manufacturers create treatments for dozens of disease areas. The list of clinical therapeutic classes and sub-classes evolves at a steady pace with the entry of innovative drugs each year. A review of in-market products and pipeline development from the past year reveals some key trends in trending therapeutic areas. As attention shifts over the years, payers pivot the way in which they cover medications and providers change the way in which they prescribe.

Recent investments from the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers help forecast the trajectory of many key therapeutic areas. In the wake of Pfizer/Allergan inversion merger, key R&D stakeholders substantiate the value of Allergan’s pipeline. A recent article from FierceBiotech calls out the importance of theraputic drugs in the pipeline that treat depression, gastrointestinal conditions and migraines, which have the potential to infuse billions of dollars into the company’s annual revenue. Repastinel potentially proves the most interesting as it approaches the massively influential anti-depressant market.

The immunology class of drugs, including a group of products leveraged to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and psoriatic arthritis, is the subject of great attention in the news. In global markets, biosimilars stand alongside blockbuster treatments like AbbVie’s Humira. However, a complex web of patents in the U.S. creates certain barriers for biosimilar manufacturers. Some manufacturers focus their resources on improved delivery technologies to retain a competitive advantage as biosimilars threaten the current market balance. AbbVie’s recent investment in an exclusive deal with Unilife provides an example of how big pharma can extend product lifecycles in key therapeutic areas with this approach.

A highlight in pharma news for late 2015, Biogen’s restructuring now makes its way back into the spotlight as the company discusses some key therapeutic areas of focus. The company’s presence in the multiple sclerosis market drives a significant portion of its revenue. While Biogen’s MS pipeline provides continued optimism, investments in R&D within tough-to-treat therapeutic areas demonstrate the manufacturer’s unique strategy. With a historically tendency to deploy treatments for neurological indications that are relatively risky from a clinical perspective, one hopeful franchise is that of aducanumab, a pipeline treatment for Alzheimer’s. It will be interesting to see how development plays out over the next couple of years and how Biogen’s treatments will impact these trending therapeutic areas.

As a result of big pharma investment in biologics and highly managed therapeutic classes, payers introduce a variety of innovative cost-control approaches. For a large portion of biological treatments in trending therapeutic areas, lengthy exclusivity periods create an uphill battle for health plans and PBMs in the effort of providing options to patients. The influx of groundbreaking treatments in chronic therapeutic areas like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and MS add to the complicated navigation of product coverage, as described in a report via AHIP. Many of these products process under the medical benefit due to their administration in a clinical setting. Therefore, many payers implement reimbursement restrictions to contain costs and ensure access to the appropriate patients who need treatment the most.

Momentum from pharmaceutical medicine manufacturers in the development of new drugs in key therapeutic areas expects to increase over 2016. Big pharma investments in trending classes greatly impact the entire healthcare network, from payer coverage to physician prescribing and patient utilization.

Stay tuned for more developments within specific therapeutic classes.

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Topics: Industry Trends, Market Access