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.

What does it take to produce a breakthrough drug?

This article has been updated

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

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Overview of drug development pipeline for hepatitis C virus from 1995–2014.
Figure 2: Attrition profiles across therapeutic areas.

Change history

  • 20 March 2015

    The competing interests statement has been expanded to specify the origins of the funding of BCG's health care practice in more detail.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of M. Denslow to this work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dirk Calcoen.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors of this article are employees of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a management consultancy that works with the world's leading biopharmaceutical companies on R&D productivity issues across therapeutic areas. The research for this specific article was funded through work performed by BCG's health care practice, including partial funding from Gilead Sciences.

Related links

PowerPoint slides

Supplementary information

Supplementary information S1 (box)

Data sources and analysis details (PDF 258 kb)

Supplementary information S2 (figure)

Development timelines from 1995–2014 (PDF 252 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Calcoen, D., Elias, L. & Yu, X. What does it take to produce a breakthrough drug?. Nat Rev Drug Discov 14, 161–162 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing