War and want dominated this year’s headlines. But 2022 should also be remembered for pharmaceutical advances. The industry that created the pandemic-ending Covid-19 vaccines is promising better treatments for cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s.
It is not just patients who are desperate for breakthroughs. The end of the cheap money era has left many biotechs with funding difficulties. Big drug companies are better placed. Their R&D spending grew by 4.7 per cent in the five years to 2020, well ahead of their sales growth of 3.8 per cent, says Bernstein. They need to show this investment was worthwhile.
Hopes are high for Eli Lilly’s new obesity drug Mounjaro. Like a similar drug from Novo Nordisk, it targets a brain area that regulates appetite. The investment bank SVB Securities forecasts that the drug could generate as much as $26bn in annual sales in 2030.
In cancer, key drugs have expanded their reach. Merck’s Keytruda now tackles 18 tumour types and is set to be the world’s top-selling medicine next year, according to Evaluate Vantage. AstraZeneca’s Lynparza, which is used for multiple tumour types, has just won EU approval for advanced prostate cancer. The group scored another notable success with Enhertu. A standing ovation in June greeted evidence of its success treating late-stage breast cancer.
Scientists also applauded Japanese drugmaker Eisai three weeks ago after data showed its new Alzheimer’s drug slowed cognitive decline. There are questions over safety. But the treatment could reward persistence in a field dogged by failure. Another example was the resurrection of an abandoned Alzheimer’s treatment as a potential treatment for schizophrenia by Boston-based Karuna. Encouraging trial results in August raised hopes for the first new class of medicine for these patients in over 50 years.
Drug breakthroughs will be buried deep in most media roundups of 2022. But they will benefit humanity more in the long run than any superpower summit, movie release or football match.
If you are a subscriber and would like to receive alerts when Lex articles are published, just click the button “Add to myFT”, which appears at the top of this page above the headline.