Explore some of 2024's key research trends so far in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, and learn how your R&D team can stay ahead and informed of the latest breakthroughs in these fields.

A close-up view of medical vials in a pharmaceutical manufacturing machine.

The first quarter of 2024 has been a whirlwind for the biotech and pharmaceutical R&D community. Funding landscapes have shifted dramatically, and exciting new research trends are emerging. Below, we dive deeper into four key industry takeaways so far this year for biotech professionals, with supporting insights from C&EN and ACS Journal articles.

1. Funding Shifts: Bigger Bucks, Fewer Deals

The funding landscape in 2024 shows a trend of larger investments in fewer deals. According to the latest Venture Monitor report1 from PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies collectively raised $5.9 billion in the first quarter of 2024. Although the dollar amount has increased compared to the quarterly average of 2023, it is spread across 209 deals, the lowest count since the third quarter of 2018.

This highlights a cautious approach from investors. Companies with mature drug candidates that are farther along in development or start-ups that are backed by experienced management teams are more likely to get funded.

Hope remains for the others to get funded, though, as plenty of capital still needs to be spent soon. That is because many venture capital firms closed their funds around 2020 and 2021 and need to deploy the raised capital by a specific time or they’ll have to return the money to their own investors.

2. Macrocycles: A New Key Player in the Peptide Science

Three macrocycle start-ups working on turning cyclic peptide molecules into orally available drugs are getting investors’ attention in the first quarter of 2024, suggesting the promising future for this technology.

Insamo, the California start-up, recently secured $12 million in seed funding to develop small, orally available, and cell-permeable cyclic peptides that could replace medicines that so far can only be injecte­d or infused.

Having raised about $52 million, Curve Therapeutics, based in Southampton, UK, is focused on cancer targets. Meanwhile, Orbis Medicines, the latest launched to leverage macrocycle for drug discover, is identifying top-selling antibody or peptide drugs—which are typically injected—that could be replaced with orally administrable drugs.

Explore More Macrocycle Research in ACS Journals:

Macrocycles in Drug Discovery─Learning from the Past for the Future
Diego Garcia Jimenez, Vasanthanathan Poongavanam, and Jan Kihlberg*
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.3c00134

Structure-Based Macrocycle Design in Small-Molecule Drug Discovery and Simple Metrics To Identify Opportunities for Macrocyclization of Small-Molecule Ligands
Maxwell D. Cummings* and Sivakumar Sekharan
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.8b01985

Automated Design of Macrocycles for Therapeutic Applications: From Small Molecules to Peptides and Proteins
Dan Sindhikara*, Michael Wagner, Paraskevi Gkeka, Stefan Güssregen, Garima Tiwari, Gerhard Hessler, Engin Yapici, Ziyu Li, and Andreas Evers*
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.0c01500

Molecular Recognition with Macrocyclic Receptors for Application in Precision Medicine
Yu-Chen Pan, Jia-Hong Tian, and Dong-Sheng Guo*
DOI: 10.1021/acs.accounts.3c00585

3. AI on the Rise: Subscription-Based Tools for Drug Discovery

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming drug discovery. Nearly all major pharmaceutical companies are leveraging AI to accelerate the development process. Some AI tools, once out of reach for smaller biotech companies due to cost, are now available through the cloud for a subscription fee. Such practice, also known as software as a service (SaaS), makes these drug discovery AI tools more accessible at affordable rates, no longer exclusive to the bigger biotech giants.

Companies including Nvidia and 1910 Genetics are offering their services via the SaaS model, while others, such as Atomic AI, a Stanford University spin-off, will not have SaaS options and will continue their partnership with the Big Pharma companies.

Dive Deeper into AI in Biotech with These ACS Journal Articles:

Concepts of Artificial Intelligence for Computer-Assisted Drug Discovery
Xin Yang, Yifei Wang, Ryan Byrne, Gisbert Schneider*, and Shengyong Yang*
DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.8b00728

AI in Pharma: Transforming Drug Discovery and Strategic Management with MYC-Modulating Compounds and BET Protein Inhibitors
Robert B. Kargbo*
DOI: 10.1021/acsmedchemlett.4c00057

Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery: Into the Great Wide Open
Jürgen Bajorath, Steven Kearnes, W. Patrick Walters, Nicholas A. Meanwell, Gunda I. Georg, and Shaomeng Wang
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.0c01077

Computer Vision-Based Artificial Intelligence-Mediated Encoding-Decoding for Multiplexed Microfluidic Digital Immunoassay
Weiqi Zhao, Yang Zhou, Yao-Ze Feng, Xiaohu Niu, Yongkun Zhao, Junpeng Zhao, Yongzhen Dong, Mingqian Tan, Yunlei Xianyu*, and Yiping Chen*
DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.3c02941

4. New Drugs in 2023

In 2023, the FDA approved a record-breaking 55 new drugs, a notable increase from the 37 approvals in 2022.

To summarize, out of 55 novel drug approvals by the Center for Drug Development and Research (CDER), 20 (36%) were identified as first-in-class, meaning they represent a new mechanism of action. Notable examples of novel first-in-class approvals include Pfizer’s Paxlovid, the first oral antiviral pill approved to treat COVID-19, and Jesduvroq, the first oral treatment for anemia caused by chronic kidney disease.

Among the 55 new drugs, 28 (51%) received orphan drug designation. Rezzayo (rezafungin), an injection to treat candidemia and invasive candidiasis, which are serious and life-threatening fungal infections, is one of the novel approvals for rare diseases.2

Also significant is the approval of Eisai and Biogen’s Leqembi (lecanemab), an antibody treatment proven to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Read More Breakthrough Drug Discovery Research in these Virtual Collections:

World Cancer Day 2024

Drug Discovery & Development: Chemistry & Biology in Tandem

Drug Discovery in Germany

Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiopharmaceuticals

Stay Ahead of the Curve in Your Industry

The research and development landscape in biotech and pharma is constantly evolving. By staying informed about funding trends, emerging technologies, and new drug discoveries, research and development professionals can position themselves for success in this dynamic field.

  1. https://pitchbook.com/news/reports/q1-2024-pitchbook-nvca-venture-monitor
  2. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/novel-drug-approvals-fda/novel-drug-approvals-2023

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