Abbott Laboratories' drug-discovery arm is focusing on fewer diseases, but it has more promising drug candidates than in recent years partly because of acquisitions and license deals, a top executive said.
"We've had a very aggressive in-licensing effort," John Leonard, senior vice president of pharmaceuticals research and development, said in an interview Tuesday.
Abbott's late-stage research pipeline has become more critical because the company will need new products to offset the impact of the eventual sales slowdown for its top product, the anti-inflammatory drug Humira. New competition and the loss of patent protection may erode Humira sales--which totaled $6.5 billion last year--later this decade.
The company now has about 20 drug compounds in mid- or late-stage clinical trials, versus about eight in 2009. They include potential treatments for chronic kidney disease, multiple sclerosis and liver cancer.
"We had essentially nothing in phase 3 just a couple of years ago," said Leonard.
Abbott has narrowed the focus of its internal, early-stage drug discovery efforts to areas including oncology, immunology and neuroscience, while exiting early-stage research in HIV and respiratory diseases, Leonard said. However, Abbott still conducts development work for HIV drugs, such as new formulations. Internally discovered drug candidates now in late-stage testing include cancer drug linifanib.
But external transactions have brought in late-stage drug candidates such as bardoxolone, a proposed treatment for chronic kidney disease, whose non-U.S. rights Abbott licensed from privately held Reata Pharmaceuticals Inc. Also, Abbott last year bought Facet Biotech Corp., acquiring proposed multiple-myeloma treatment elotuzumab.