Pharmaceutical companies facing a low probability of marketing blockbuster products or shrinking medical needs in many markets are turning to oncology for future opportunities because the oncology market remains rife with unmet needs. The unmet markets lie in the more specific indications, which represent smaller patient population size. This means that pharmaceutical companies will not be able to tap into the traditional blockbuster markets as easily as before. Instead, they will need to research drugs with many indications, or have the ability to market many more drugs.
As many as 1000 oncology drugs may be in development, 650 of them currently in phase II or III. This intense focus on cancer reflects the shifting healthcare market. Oncology provides companies with the ability to target niche markets, as well as to research the underlying causes of the disease to create medications with numerous indications. The numerous types of cancers which are still untreatable, and the mystery that still remains around much of cancer’s underlying biological processes create large opportunities for research.
Major companies are turning or expanding into the oncology market. Pfizer has outlined 30 compounds in development for oncology. Their compounds address a large number of indications, however, Pfizer has recently suffered some failures in its drug development. For example, Axitinib as well as Sutent for breast cancer. Eisai has built a new oncology research facility in order to help achieve its cancer driven pipeline. It’s most promising, and first, cancer drug Eribulin, for refractory breast cancer, was filed with regulators in March, 2010. Merck has dedicated the highest percentage of clinical projects in their pipeline to oncology. Over 50% of these are still in Phase II and they address a range of cancers, from cervical cancer to melanoma. Novartis has also shifted its focus to oncology and understanding the biology of the disease. It plans to remain in its established niche of hematological cancers, and also expand into Roche’s large-solid tumor market.