Most Important Drugs Over the Past 10 Years


Looking back over the past year and even decade, STAT News takes a look back at the best drugs approved over the past 10 years in its weekly Readout podcast.

The members of the STAT team argued over which drugs have had the greatest impact, such as newly-approved immunotherapy drugs in cancer. It started in 2011 with Bristol-Myers Squibb securing approval for Yervoy in 2011 but really heated up in 2014 with the approvals of BMS’ Opdivo and Merck’s Keytruda, both checkpoint inhibitors. Keytruda, which has won more than 20 approvals for different indications, is poised to become the world’s best-selling drug by 2025. The research that led to the development and approvals of these drugs all won Nobel Prizes.

The STAT podcasters do not take a deep dive into each of the drugs, but do explain how these immunotherapies have become game-changers in the treatment of some cancers. While immunotherapy treatments do not work for all cancer patients, they have become lifesaving treatments for so many. For the companies themselves, they have also been life-changing. Not only is Merck sitting atop a drug set to deliver billions upon billions of dollars in annual revenue, but immunotherapy changed the fortunes of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Jeremy Levin, who is currently the chief executive officer of Ovid Therapeutics, was the architect of the strategy that changed BMS known as the “String of Pearls.” As Levin explained to BioSpace in an interview earlier this year, the String of Pearls was a series of “small and deliberate” transactions that would “bring in all the pieces required to create a platform of new cancer therapeutics.” At the time, Levin said immuno-oncology was an area that many companies had abandoned, believing that it would not yield fruit. But, by reading the scientific tea leaves, Levin said he was convinced that the acquisitions he orchestrated would bolster the scientific capabilities of BMS.

 “Cancer has now been revolutionized… They [BMS] were brave enough despite the fact that nearly every single company had walked away. It’s led to some amazing work,” Levin said.

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In addition to the checkpoint inhibitors, the STST team also pointed to the approval of CAR-T drugs that are changing the game with the treatment of some blood cancers. Companies are increasing efforts to develop potential CAR-T programs for solid tumors but, so far, have not been successful.

Another set of important drugs that were approved over the past year, according to the podcasters, are those cystic fibrosis drugs developed by Vertex. The drugs, such as Kalydeco, Orkambi and, it’s most recently approved drug, Trikafta. STAT said the company’s primary focus on this rare disease “encapsulates the sage” of developing drugs for a small number of patients. For the STAT reviewers, the research that has gone into the development of these life-changing medications also highlighted the importance of the science that went into R&D for them. The Vertex researchers dug deep into the genetics of what causes the disease and how best to address it. With Trikafta, the most recently approved drug, the medication is expected to treat 90% of CF patients.

On the other end of the spectrum, STAT noted that there have also been important new drugs approved for the broad disease population of diabetes over the past 10 years. The decade saw the approval of a number of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, which are a class of drugs that has been used to treat diabetes patients since 2005.  In October, Novo Nordisk won approval for Rybelsus, the first such treatment to be approved in pill form. Additionally, the STAT crew noted that SLG2 inhibitors, such as AstraZeneca’s Farxiga, Merck’s Steglatro, Johnson & Johnson’s Invokana and Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Jardiance are also important steps in diabetes, particularly in how they are benefiting cardiac events.

In addition to the best drugs approved, the STTA team also said the decade would be remembered for drugs that didn’t get approved, particularly those addressing Alzheimer’s disease. There were many noticeable flops over the past 10 years with many companies abandoning treatment programs. While the STAT team predicted that a lack of Alzheimer’s disease treatments could be a point of discussion over the next 10 years, Biogen is hoping that its asset aducanumab will break the glass barrier next year.

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