2020 was an unforgettable year. COVID-19 sent shock waves across the globe, claiming more than 1.5 million lives with the end not yet in sight. In the wake of this tragedy, the pharmaceutical market raced to develop treatments. New vaccines for coronavirus have emerged in record time. In many ways, 2020 was a year of medical triumphs, but the fallout from the pandemic will linger for years.
As the world enters 2021, cancer patients face unique struggles. The global pandemic has had a significant impact on oncology care and clinician access for patients. However, newly approved therapies offer extra weapons in the fight against cancer and as we step into a new year, there is a lot to be encouraged about.
COVID-19, Cancer Care, and the Rise of Telemedicine
In 2020, oncology centers helped lead the shift toward telemedicine. Many providers urged cancer patients to seek care through virtual platforms. Thousands of medical organizations began to offer a wide range of telehealth services. Payors have been paying close attention to these trends and are re-evaluating reimbursement policies with regard to virtual care.
Telehealth appears to offer a significant reduction in costs for some patient groups. Historically, many cancer patients preferred to seek in-person care. The evidence is mounting that telehealth provides faster, less expensive care. Increased use of telehealth may shrink ballooning cancer care costs. Telehealth could also help immunocompromised patients avoid deadly infections.
The increase in telehealth coincides with a rise in wearable devices, apps, and other digital tools. The pandemic has sparked greater public health consciousness and patients are now eager to monitor their health more closely on their own. Many cancer patients are older and they may be less tech-savvy, but they are willing to use these new tools to help protect their well-being.
Providers can leverage wearable devices and remote digital tools to gain a clearer picture of patients’ health. Digital tools may eliminate the need for face-to-face contact, providing cancer care to patients at home. Payors are also enthusiastic about tools that help prevent costly health complications. When combined with telehealth, digital tools offer clear health benefits. Evidence is mounting that these tools may reduce healthcare costs. As a result, they’re likely to lead to long-term changes in cancer care.
Precision medicine is on the rise globally, with explosive growth in the field of oncology. A recent McKinsey & Company report states that “Oncology is at the vanguard of precision medicine.” In 2020, the industry continued to explore methods of personalizing cancer care. Chemotherapy could become increasingly obsolete as immunotherapy takes center stage. Diagnostic testing to identify the best therapeutic approaches on an individualized basis has become standard of care in many malignancies.
Researchers continue to develop new methods of targeting cancer cells. Healthcare providers are increasingly turning to germline and somatic testing in the clinic to help guide informed treatment decisions. Providers are refining treatment approaches and providing truly customized care. Demand for genetic testing is only expected to grow throughout 2021. Immunotherapy and pharmacogenomics are trending to dominate the market at some point in the near future.
Companies and Competitors
The oncology market remains competitive. Throughout 2020, companies aimed to control costs and shrink drug development timelines. Pharma companies raced to debut new treatments and streamline the development process. The competition will remain fierce throughout the coming year.
Even so, the global pandemic has helped spark interest in partnerships. Many organizations and companies collaborated to develop COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. Successful outcomes proved that collaborations could offer a win-win scenario. Companies that work together can secure an edge in the marketplace.
Governments and citizens like to see private companies working together for the public good. As the demand and costs for oncology treatments rise, new partnerships may prove a viable business strategy.
Industry Spending and Financial Outlook
The oncology market continues to expand at a rapid pace. Experts expect ongoing increases in cancer diagnoses over the next 10 years. Most of these increases will result from an aging population. By 2030, more than 70% of cancer diagnoses will occur among adults over 65. As millions of patients reach that threshold, cancer costs will continue to skyrocket.
Oncology will continue to dominate the healthcare sphere, securing the largest share of healthcare spending. Oncology costs will rise by 9%–12% annually through 2023, with global oncology costs exceeding $240 billion.
Payors and patients alike are anxious to control costs. Finding sustainable, cost-efficient treatments will be a priority. Even as new and better therapeutic approaches emerge, pharma companies can expect to face mounting pressure to reduce treatment costs.
Innovative and Emerging Treatments
Programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and PD-1 ligand 1 (PD-L1) inhibitors continue to dominate the oncology market. Ongoing research suggests that patients treated with PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors experience significantly better outcomes across a variety of tumor types and hematologic malignancies. Demand is likely to increase throughout 2021.
Antibody-drug conjugates and Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitors have also taken center stage. These drugs help shrink tumors while sparing healthy cells. Research has demonstrated that these treatments offer exceptional clinical efficacy and safety.
Throughout 2020, powerhouse drugs like Revlimid®, Keytruda®, and Imbruvica® continued to rake in billions in sales. In 2019, Revlimid, Keytruda, Opdivo®, Avastin®, and Imbruvica netted over $43 billion in combined sales. While new treatments continue to gain popularity, established drugs still claim a large market share.
The Year Ahead
By 2022, the top 15 cancer drugs are expected to generate almost $90 billion in sales annually. However, emerging treatments may shift the tide and open new pathways. 2020 demonstrated that the pharma market can produce effective treatments at an astonishing speed. 2021 is bound to be a year of even greater innovation and discovery in the field of oncology.