Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The importance of new companies for drug discovery: origins of a decade of new drugs

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 December 2010

This article has been updated


Understanding the factors that promote drug innovation is important both for improvements in health care and for the future of organizations engaged in drug discovery research and development. By identifying the inventors of 252 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration from 1998 to 2007 and their places of work, and also classifying these drugs according to innovativeness, this study investigates the contribution of different types of organizations and regions to drug innovation during this period. The data indicate that drugs initially discovered in biotechnology companies or universities accounted for approximately half of the scientifically innovative drugs approved, as well as half of those that responded to unmet medical needs, although their contribution to the total number of new drugs was proportionately lower. The biotechnology companies were located mainly in the United States. This article presents a comprehensive analysis of these data and discusses potential contributing factors to the trends observed, with the aim of aiding efforts to promote drug innovation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Allocation of the 252 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 1998 and 2007.
Figure 2: Distribution of the 252 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 1998 and 2007 according to scientific novelty.
Figure 3: Distribution of the 252 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 1998 and 2007 according to regulatory review priority.
Figure 4: Allocation of total peak year sales of the 214 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 1998 and 2005.
Figure 5: Distribution of the total peak years sales of drugs according to scientific novelty.
Figure 6: Distribution of the total peak years sales of drugs according to regulatory review priority.
Figure 7: Organizations undertaking discovery and development of new drugs at key stages.

Change history

  • 12 November 2010

    In figure 7, the second column in panels a and b should have been labelled 'NDA/BLA applicant'. In the legend for figure 7, and in the article text related to this figure on p879, the subset of the drugs analysed in panel a are those with peak year sales above US$500 million, rather than mean peak year sales.


  1. Pisano, G. P. Science Business: The Promise, the Reality and the Future of Biotech (Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 2006).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Lawrence, S. Biotech drugs blaze a trail. Nature Biotechnol. 24, 736 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Natanson, L. & van Brunt, J. 20 compounds that defined biotech. Signals Magazine [online] (27 Jun 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Munos, B. Lessons from 60 years of pharmaceutical innovation. Nature Rev. Drug Discov. 8, 959–968 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Kneller, R. Correspondence: The origin of new drugs. Nature Biotechnol. 23, 529–530 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Kneller, R. Correspondence: The national origins of new drugs. Nature Biotechnol. 23, 655–656 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Haffner, M. E. Adopting orphan drugs — two dozen years of treating rare diseases. N. Engl. J. Med. 354, 445–447 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Kneller, R. W. in Reconfiguring Knowledge Production: Changing Authority Relations in the Sciences and Their Consequences for Intellectual Innovation (eds Whitley, R., Gläser, J. & Engvall, L.) 110–145 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  9. Kneller, R. in Changing Governance of the Sciences: the Advent of Research Evaluation Systems (eds Whitley, R. & Glaser, J.) 51–73 (Springer, Dordecht, 2007).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  10. Normile, D. Older scientists win majority of funding. Science 303, 1746 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kneller, R. Bridging Islands: Venture Companies and the Future of Japanese and American Industry 42–167, 232–376 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  12. Mervis, J. And then there was one. Science 321, 1622–1628 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Saxenian, A. Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 1–19, 105–259 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hyde, A. Working in Silicon Valley: Economic and Legal Analysis of a High Velocity Labor Market (M. E. Sharpe, Armonk NY, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Christensen, C. M. The rigid disk drive industry: a history of commercial and technological turbulence. Bus. Hist. Rev. 67, 531–588 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Zucker, L. G. & Darby, M. R. Costly information: firm transformation, exit or persistent failure. Am. Behav. Sci. 39, 959–974 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Garnier, J.-P. Rebuilding the R & D engine in Big Pharma. Harvard Bus. Rev. 86, 68–76 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Saxenian, A. The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy 1–121, 125–138 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2006).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Frantz, S. 2004 approvals: the demise of the blockbuster? Nature Rev. Drug Discov. 4, 93–94 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Hughes, B. Pharma pursues novel models for academic collaboration. Nature Rev. Drug Discov. 7, 631–632 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Jarvis, L. M. New deal: seeking closer ties, drug companies and universities shake up the model for research alliances. Chem. Eng. News 86, 13–20 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kneller, R. Autarkic drug discovery in Japanese pharmaceutical companies: insights into national differences in industrial innovation. Res. Policy 32, 1805–1827 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Rader, R. A. Biopharmaceutical Products in the U.S. and European Markets. 6th edn Vols 1 & 2 (Bioplan Associates, Maryland, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Savarino, A. A historical sketch of the discovery and development of HIV-1 integrase inhibitors. Expert Opin. Investig. Drugs 15, 1507–1522 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Sternitzke, C., Bartkowski, A. & Schramm, R. Visualizing patent statistics by means of social network analysis tools. World Patent Inf. 30, 115–131 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


I thank researchers (usually the listed patent inventors) who helped to clarify apparent discrepancies between the patent history and the development information for several drugs. The helpful comments of the referees are also greatly appreciated.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The author received no financial support for this research other than grants-in-aid from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). These grants-in-aid supported research related to the role of start-ups in innovation generally, not specifically in pharmaceuticals. The author consults for two Japanese biotechnology companies, for which his only compensation is equity or stock options. Neither of these companies is mentioned, or specifically alluded to, in this article. He is also an advisor to RIKEN (The Institute of Chemistry and Physics), a basic-research laboratory supported by the Japanese government. Otherwise, he has no interests that might be perceived to influence the results and discussion reported in this article. The author has not shown this paper to, or discussed its contents with, any organization representing biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information Box S1

Additional notes on data sources and analysis methodology (PDF 363 kb)

Supplementary information Table S2

Lists of all 252 drugs with attributions and other key features (XLS 218 kb)

Supplementary information Box S3

Notes on the attribution, classification or characteristics of particular drugs or groups of drugs (PDF 717 kb)

Supplementary information Box S4

Special topic notes (PDF 402 kb)

Related links

Related links


Robert Kneller's homepage

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kneller, R. The importance of new companies for drug discovery: origins of a decade of new drugs. Nat Rev Drug Discov 9, 867–882 (2010).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing: Translational Research

Sign up for the Nature Briefing: Translational Research newsletter — top stories in biotechnology, drug discovery and pharma.

Get what matters in translational research, free to your inbox weekly. Sign up for Nature Briefing: Translational Research