Big Pharma companies invest billions of dollars every year for a very low rate of success and still all these efforts must pay off. Only a few drugs are accepted every year as they have to pass through innumerable tests in order to guarantee, for the most obvious reasons, the safety of patients-customers.
Last September C&EN released a supplement on The Top 50 Drugs of 2014. Something I see like the academy awards of drugs, a very interesting catalogue in which you can see the ultimate tendencies in drugs research and also the direction pharma companies are taking in terms of where to invest their money. The supplement analyses the top 50 drugs according to 3 different categories: The top 10 emerging blockbusters (drugs recently approved with $1 billion plus potential), the top 10 drugs in development (most promising drugs still in the pipeline) and the 30 top-selling drugs on the market.
Apart from my curiosity as a chemist I wanted to know what are the diseases object of research for pharma companies. When you take a closer look to the diseases treated by the top selling drugs you see that the first and second are for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and the third top selling drug is for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A bit unexpected I have to recognise, if I had to place a bet without all that information I would have said cancer, no doubt, is top 3. You see treatment for leukemia, a type of cancer, in the fourth position. Fifth position for the treatment of diabetes and at last cancer (used as a general term) appears in the sixth position. Then when you continue going down the list you see mainly cancer, HIV, respiratory problems and pain treatments. And it is quite clear that the treatment of pain has a big part in the whole business.
Concerning the top 10 emerging blockbusters and the top 10 drugs in development the tendency is similar. Predominantly cancer with a special mention to breast cancer, HIV, diabetes and in the top positions hepatitis C.
From a more synthetic point of view, there were a few things that caught my attention. First of all, where are all the super-big molecules from the literature in total synthesis? where are all these molecules isolated from plants and algae with medicinal properties? Instead of those, the vast majority of the drugs are small to medium size molecules. Molecules dominated by nitrogenated heterocyclic structures and in a great number of cases bearing fluor atoms or fluorinated functional groups. All these facts highlight the relevance of the development of the chemistry of heterocycles which are ubiquitous in nature. And also the increasing number of papers on fluorination methodologies in the literature as it is known that fluorine atoms often enhance the pharmacological properties of organic molecules.
And with all said, it only rests to congratulate the 2014 awardees. Nevertheless, my advice to all is try to keep yourselves healthy.