Pharma R&D Activity Surges Even Without COVID-19, Says Report from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science

May 19, 2021 12:00 UTC
  • Funding for early- and late-stage R&D and strategic transactions increased significantly in 2020; aggregate R&D spend for the top 15 companies reached a record high
  • The number of first-time launches of novel active substances (NAS) reached an all-time high of 66 in 2020 – with success for treatments in oncology and rare diseases
  • Clinical trial starts increased 8% in 2020, similar growth to the prior 3 years, with oncology trial starts reaching historically high levels
  • Overall, clinical trial activity recovered from mid-year 2020 to levels above 2019 - even without COVID-19 trials

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Despite significant disruption and reprioritization of clinical trial activity during 2020 due to COVID-19, R&D activity levels remained at historically high levels, driven by new funding and strategic transactions, especially within oncology, according to a new research report Global Trends in R&D: Overview Through 2020 released by the IQVIA™ Institute for Human Data Science.

“The growth in research and development driven by new oncology drugs, new funding and strategic investments is a testament to the resilience and strength of the innovative, global biopharmaceutical industry,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. “Faced with significant disruptions and the need to reprioritize research and development, the global life sciences industry has demonstrated its ability to meet and even exceed expectations for new and better lifesaving therapies and vaccines.”

Key highlights of the report include:

Clinical Development Productivity: This area increased slightly in 2020 but remains at historically low levels because of rising trial durations, complexity of disease targets and their associated trial protocol designs, and declining success rates. Efforts across the industry to increase productivity by expanding the use of data- and evidence-based approaches to improve trial design and speed execution are expected to yield improvements over time.

R&D Pipeline: Growth in the late-stage pipeline continued in 2020, bringing total expansion to 43 percent since 2015 - oncology drugs reached record high numbers. Growth in the early-stage pipeline – including next-generation biotherapeutics - paused in 2020.

R&D Funding & Strategic Transactions: Funding for early- and late-stage R&D increased significantly in 2020, unaffected by the disruptions of COVID-19 and reflecting a strong focus on innovative pathways and approaches to discover and develop novel therapeutics, and strategic transactions. These range from M&A through licensing and other forms of collaboration, often between large and small companies, and they proceeded at typical levels.

New Drug Approvals & Launches: Sustained investment and efforts to discover and develop innovative medicines by small and large companies yielded a record 66 new drugs globally with success in oncology and treatments for rare diseases in addition to COVID-19 vaccines.

The full version of the report, including a detailed description of the methodology, is available at The study was produced independently as a public service, without industry or government funding.

About the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science

The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science contributes to the advancement of human health globally through timely research, insightful analysis and scientific expertise applied to granular non-identified patient-level data.

Fulfilling an essential need within healthcare, the Institute delivers objective, relevant insights and research that accelerate understanding and innovation critical to sound decision making and improved human outcomes. With access to IQVIA’s institutional knowledge, advanced analytics, technology and unparalleled data, the Institute works in tandem with a broad set of healthcare stakeholders to drive a research agenda focused on Human Data Science, including government agencies, academic institutions, the life sciences industry, and payers. More information about the IQVIA Institute can be found at


IQVIA (NYSE: IQV) is a leading global provider of advanced analytics, technology solutions, and clinical research services to the life sciences industry. IQVIA creates intelligent connections across all aspects of healthcare through its analytics, transformative technology, big data resources and extensive domain expertise. IQVIA Connected Intelligence™ delivers powerful insights with speed and agility — enabling customers to accelerate the clinical development and commercialization of innovative medical treatments that improve healthcare outcomes for patients. With approximately 72,000 employees, IQVIA conducts operations in more than 100 countries.

IQVIA is a global leader in protecting individual patient privacy. The company uses a wide variety of privacy-enhancing technologies and safeguards to protect individual privacy while generating and analyzing information on a scale that helps healthcare stakeholders identify disease patterns and correlate with the precise treatment path and therapy needed for better outcomes. IQVIA’s insights and execution capabilities help biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers, government agencies, payers and other healthcare stakeholders tap into a deeper understanding of diseases, human behaviors, and scientific advances, to advance their path toward cures. To learn more, visit

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Source: IQVIA

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