Centre for Science and Technology Studies Wassenaarseweg 62A 2333ALLeiden Zuid Holland31715273909 www.cwts.nl

The landscape of scientific publication activity by Big Pharma

Companies are a major player when it comes to research and development. According to Eurostat, business enterprise made 66% of the total R&D expenditure in EU28 in 2017, thus investing substantially more than the higher education (22% of the total) and government sectors (11%). With this website devoted to Big Pharma, we aim to start a series of analyses on the publication activity of companies in various sectors.

Pharmaceutical companies make up a large part of global investment in health R&D. The largest 23 pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) invested about €100bn in R&D in 2017/18, of a total of €140bn invested by the top 400 pharma companies (see EU R&D Scoreboard). This might be estimated as at least on third of global health R&D expenditure. Therefore, it can substantially shape health research priorities in all countries.

How does the publication profile of pharma companies look like? What diseases are these companies investigating? What universities are they collaborating with? Where are their laboratories and collaborators located?

Large scale analyses of publication trends offer a vantage point to study trends in Big Pharma’s research efforts and priorities, given that Big Pharma laboratories regularly publish scientific articles.

This website presents some analyses of trends by companies, by disease and by country from 1995 until 2016 that provide a first view, partial but informative, of the Big Pharma’s research dynamics. Since Big Pharma’s ultimate goal is not publishing, but to put drugs into the market, data interpretation needs to be made with caution. See caveats in Section 2 in Ràfols et al. (2014). Methodological details are provided below.

Decline in Big pharma’s relative contribution to health research

The total number of publications by the largest 23 companies has slightly declined from more than 12,500 publications in 1995 to around 11,500 since 2001. This decline is surprising given that in this period, the total number of publications on health research increased 125% for all the world (Baseline 1), and also increase 70% in selected large industrial countries (Baseline 2: US, UK, France and Germany). The decline is at odds with the increase of R&D Big Pharma expenditure in the last 20 years. The trend is possibly due to closure of R&D laboratories by Big Pharma, often following mergers and acquisitions, as well as to externalisation of R&D to universities and small companies.

Increase in Big pharma’s publications of clinical trials

However, if we focus only in publications reporting clinical trials, we observe that the total number of publications increased 100% in 1995-2015, almost the same increase rate as in all the world (Baseline 1) or selected large industrial countries (Baseline 2: US, UK, France and Germany). Therefore, while the slight decline in the total number of publications suggest that Big Pharma is outsourcing drug discovery and pre-clinical research, this graph shows that it remains directly engaged with clinical trials.

Benchmarking of Big Pharma companies

The trends of publications over time allow to compare the R&D dynamics of specific companies. We see a stagnation or decline of major companies and a slow growth, but still small number of publications, of upcoming companies such as Allergan, Celgene, Gilead and Teva. In some companies such as Pfizer (after acquiring Wyeth in 2011), or Merck (after acquiring Shering Plough in 2010), one can observe a steep decline of number of publications associated with lab closures after acquisitions or mergers (since the number of publications includes acquired firms both before and after the acquisition). However, for a smaller number of companies, such as AstraZeneca (merger of Astra and Zeneca in 1999) or Roche (after acquiring Genentech in 2009), an increase of publications is observed after the mergers or acquisitions.

Add a new entry using the buttons below (limit of 10) and click a line to remove the entry from the graph.

Geographical trends of Pharma laboratories and collaborators

The affiliations listed in publications allow to examine the location of Big Pharma laboratories as well as institutions (mainly universities) collaborating with them. A first observation (upper graph) is that the number of collaborations has increased significantly, even in countries such as France or Japan, that show a decrease in pharma’s publications.

Also, publication data in 2012-2016 (lower graph) shows that most Big Pharma’s laboratories remain mainly located in Europe and the US, in spite of past debates about internationalisation of R&D and off-shoring of laboratories to middle income or emergent countries such as China.

Worth observing as well that although the total number of publications in US-based pharma laboratories is larger than EU-based laboratories (compare green columns), there are the same number of collaborating institutions in Europe and the US (compare orange columns).

Percentage of publications with respect to initial year (1998 - 2016)

Publications by pharma firms
Publications by collaborating institutions

Percentage of publications with respect to world total (2012 - 2016)

Number of publications by Big Pharma in a country
Number of Pharma publications by collaborating institutions in a country

Trends by disease group and company

About 30% of Big Pharma publications can be directly related to disease groups. This allows to study the relative efforts of pharmaceutical companies across therapeutic areas and the associated trends. At the aggregate level, we observe that cancer (malignant neoplasms) is the largest disease area, with an important growth, whereas the second and third groups in the 1990s (infectious and cardiovascular diseases) remain relatively stagnant. Diabetes mellitus stands in 2015 as the second largest category, with the fastest growth over the last 20 years. This interactive graph also allows to explore the research focus of specific companies, or the main companies doing research on a given disease.

Add a new entry using the buttons below (limit of 15) and click a line to remove the entry from the graph.

R&D portfolio of companies by diseases

Pharmaceutical companies specialise in therapeutic areas. This graph allows to explore the focus of their publications in terms of specific diseases for the period 2006 to 2015 (10 years). We can see that relatively smaller companies tend to be highly specialised in a given area: for example, Novo Nordisk in Diabetes, Biogen in Multiple Sclerosis, and Allergan in eye care. Larger companies are more spread over various diseases, but one can nevertheless observe relative specialisation. For example, GlaxoSmithKline has a relative emphasis on respiratory diseases, whereas Eli Lilly is specialised in mental health.

Disease research across companies and collaborating universities

It is also interesting to examine to which extent research is spread or concentrated in given companies, and which universities they are collaborating with. For example, we can observe that Roche has the most publications in breast cancer, and that the University of Texas is the largest collaborator of Big Pharma companies for this particular disease. We also find that Sanofi is the main company studying Dengue, and that Mahidol University in Thailand has collaborations with Big Pharma companies for this topic.

Methods and data

Publications were obtained from the CWTS in-house version of the Web of Science (WoS) for the period 1995-2016 using a thesaurus of pharma companies that we developed combining information of merger and acquisitions from various sources.

The assignation of diseases and disease groups was based on the International Classification of Diseases (ICD10). Each ICD disease was assigned to publications with corresponding the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term(s) on the basis of a correspondence table between ICD10 and MeSH.

Visualisations by SIRIS Academic.