roi of pharmaceutical innovation 2018


Embracing the future of work to unlock R&D productivity

Measuring the return from pharmaceutical innovation 2018

The biopharma industry continues to face challenges this year, with projected returns on investment in R&D at the lowest levels since our analysis began in 2010. However, there are opportunities to reverse this trend, which will require new ways of working and a complete digital transformation to unlock R&D productivity and deliver the next generation of scientific breakthroughs.

This ninth annual study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions analyzes the return on investment that 12 large cap biopharma companies expect to achieve from their late-stage pipelines, along with four smaller, more specialized companies for comparison. As well as the core analysis, the report also provides recommendations of how the future of work, who does it, and where it gets done, can help companies to unlock R&D productivity.

View or download the report

Key findings for top 12 biopharma

  • R&D returns have declined to 1.9 per cent, down from 10.1 per cent in 2010 - the lowest level in nine years
  • Returns have been impacted by the growing cost of bringing a drug to market which now stands at $2,168 million – almost double the $1,188 million recorded in 2010
  • Forecast peak sales have declined from last year to $407 million – less than half the 2010 value of $816 millionR&D returns have declined to 3.2 per cent, down from 10.1 per cent in 2010

How are biopharma R&D returns faring?

Lower returns across the industry

The extension cohort of smaller, more specialized companies also saw projected returns drop this year, from 12.5 percent in 2017 to 9.3 percent in 2018. This fall was driven by the commercialization of five major drugs in 2018. However, these smaller firms continue to outperform their peers, finding success in releasing high value products. These products have added $70 billion of projected lifetime sales to the commercial portfolio across the four companies. The extension cohort have also increased their forecast peak sales per asset from $952 million in 2013 to $1,165 million in 2018.

Embracing the future of work to unlock R&D productivity

Companies need to act now and embrace new ways of working, embed new technologies and seek out talent with the right skill sets to maximize their return on investment in pharmaceutical innovation.

Our recommendations cover three main focus areas for transformation: technology, collaboration and geography, underpinned by a strong leadership response.


Increased use of automation, natural language processing (NLP) and other cognitive technologies can improve the speed, accuracy and quality of repetitive tasks. This can free up personnel to work on more value-added activities, such as interpretation of results. Implementation and effective application of these technologies requires a shift in workforce skills in order to realise the potential business value.


Companies should look beyond their traditional partnership groups to increase trust and broaden access to patients, and create new operating models to support expansion of more innovative research networks. Working with other groups on collaborative, adaptive clinical studies that allow for simultaneous evaluation of multiple treatments can benefit patients and other stakeholders within a complex trial landscape.


For the biopharma industry, hubs have been a long established idea, but adoption has been limited. To support biopharma companies in their transformation, further geographic clustering can help increase access to external talent and ideas. As well as partnering with technology companies, collaboration with major universities and other developers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and digital health technologies can be beneficial.

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