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Brainstorm Health: Most Innovative Drug Makers, Israel’s Health Data Push, Shire Stock Soars

March 28, 2018, 7:36 PM UTC

Hello and happy hump day, readers! This is Sy.

In an uncertainty-laden industry, IDEA Pharma has come up with one set of metrics to gauge which drug makers are succeeding. And the firm’s latest “Pharmaceutical Innovation Index,” (PII) released today, suggests that AstraZeneca, Gilead, and Johnson & Johnson were on the upswing in the past year.

Those three companies took the top spots in the new PII report. Of the three, AstraZeneca gained the most by far compared to IDEA’s 2017 rankings. In fact, AZ rose a staggering 14 places on the list this year (Gilead and J&J both rose by one spot, Novartis by 9, while biotech giant AbbVie sank three rungs).

“The biggest shaker this year is AstraZeneca, coming from the middle of the pack in 2017 to take the 2018 PII Crown,” wrote the report authors. “Gilead also continued their PII ascent, becoming the runner-up in 2018, advancing from 2017’s 3rd. Johnson and Johnson, having ceded the top spot last year after a 4 year run on top, was able to regain some of the lost ground in 2018, landing in a joint 3rd spot with a rapidly-improving Novartis.”

That’s a pretty significant shuffling of the deck. So just how did IDEA come to these conclusions? A lot of the firm’s methodology has to do with how much time it takes to advance a therapy all the way through the regulatory process, from experimental molecule to market. Less than 10% of all drug candidates make it from phase one human trials to approval, according to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) trade group. One of the biggest innovation bottlenecks is the progression from mid-stage phase two trials to large-scale phase three studies, which clocked in a success rate of just 31% between 2006 and 2015.

AstraZeneca was able to improve its standing in IDEA’s list through promising clinical data for its experimental drug pipeline and a number of new products that recently hit the market. These regulatory successes are mirrored strongly with a myriad of clinical trial success and advancement. “AstraZeneca managed to launch five significant new medicines in 2017, across their primary therapy areas,” which include cancer and lung diseases, write the report authors. “Based on key internal guidance, the company has narrowed their R&D focus to provide deeper results from their prioritized therapeutic areas, most notably oncology.”

These rankings weigh the “freshness” of new products quite heavily, as IDEA notes. Here, you can read a more comprehensive explanation of the company’s methodology.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


A massive national health data push Israel. You may remember that we had a big piece about the big data revolution in health care and how it is (and isn't) changing medicine (ahem, if you don't, here's a link to refresh your memory). One big barrier to the use of all this biological information is old-fashioned data silos that make it hard for researchers to access information. But there's a huge new effort underway to tackle that exact issue... In Israel. Reuters reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a $290 million effort over the weekend to make the state's "population health data" available to researchers and private companies to spur drug development and preventive health technologies. The country will also aim to collect five years of data from 100,000 volunteers to include their information in this repository (sounds a little like a certain Google project stateside, doesn't it?)  (Reuters)


Shire soars on Takeda takeover speculation. Rare disease drugmaker Shire spiked more than 13% in Wednesday trading as rumors swirled that Japan's Takeda may make a bid for the company. Takeda hasn't confirmed that speculation (such a deal would cost upwards of $40 billion)—but the talk seems to have elevated Shire despite a Japanese court's decision against Shire's claim against competitor Roche. (The Guardian)


Aetna joins the drug rebate pass-on wagon. Another insurer wants to pass on the highly-under-the-radar rebates it wins from drug companies and pharmacy benefits managers onto consumers. This time, it's Aetna (an insurance giant that's currently in a proposed buyout by CVS). The move would mean about 3 million Aetna customers would receive some kind of discount, and it comes on the heels of competitor UnitedHealth's similar decision for consumers in employer health plans who have high deductibles. "We have always believed that consumers should benefit from discounts and rebates that we negotiate with drug manufacturers," said Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini. (CNN)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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