The story behind our $50 billion R&D investment

Discovering and developing new medicines is not easy. But it’s an aspiration that drives our science and is the foundation of this company.

By Richard A. Gonzalez, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

We believe the journey to discovering new medicines and better treatments starts in our labs. Our commitment to innovative science is a commitment to bring new and impactful products and treatments to patients and customers around the world. Since our inception as a company in 2013, we have invested almost $50 billion in the pursuit of developing world-class medicines with the goal of lessening the burden of illness on patients, their caregivers and the healthcare system. And many of our scientific breakthroughs have done just that.

New medicines aren’t discovered quickly or easily. Despite our best intentions, most new molecules never make it out of the lab, and it takes hard work and dedication to translate foundational science into a viable new medicine. And yet that journey – pushing an idea to a breakthrough – drives this company.

Our pipeline is our future. It’s an engine that will drive us 5, 10 and 20 years from now. Here are four things you may not know about our R&D investment and how it can help patients in need of new and better treatments. 

1. R&D involves taking big risks

Some of the time, we are successful, and our R&D investment leads to a new medicine. But most of the time, we are not. It takes an average of 10 years and $2 to $3 billion to bring one new medicine to market. Less than 12 percent of new molecular entities that enter clinical trials eventually receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

That doesn’t mean we give up.

Take, for example, our commitment to neurological conditions: Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the most common neurological disorders worldwide, with over 50 million people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and 10 million more with Parkinson’s. While there are treatments to help reduce symptoms, there are no treatments available to help stop or reverse progression.

Given the enormous unmet need in Alzheimer’s in particular, we remain committed to finding disease-modifying therapies. We have several additional programs that are either in the clinic today or are in preclinical development, including an asset for patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease.

2. Our pipeline attracts great scientific minds

In 2013 when we became an independent company, our R&D investment was $2.8 billion, and that number has continued to grow – leading to a $5.8 billion annual investment in 2020. Many of the top scientists in their fields come to AbbVie because of this continued and growing investment. Our focus on science has attracted leading scientific talent, including a member of the team that first mapped the human genome and a scientist who was one of the first to use genome sequencing to diagnose, treat and cure a patient who was suffering from a mysterious intestinal disease.

These influential leaders in their field come to AbbVie to work on discovering and developing new medicines. They come because of our dedication to continuous investment in R&D and because they want to be part of a team that works to change the lives of whole groups of patients.

3. Our existing medicines support our R&D investment

Revenue generated by our on-market medicines supports our ongoing R&D investment, funding future treatments and cures. And our R&D work does not end when a medicine is approved. We spend years monitoring thousands of patients that are taking a newly approved medicine to better understand the risks and potential benefits over time, and to explore whether additional groups of patients may benefit from the science behind the medicine. Throughout the development process and after a medicine is on the market, we continually look for and research additional areas where it can show benefit.

Data from on-market studies often leads to the discovery that one medicine can help additional patients with other similar diseases or that a medicine can help patients suffering from rare diseases. Although diseases may only impact a relatively small number of patients, their impact on public health is far-reaching, and we believe our science can help these patients.

For example, we are currently evaluating investigational compounds in early clinical phases for a triple combination therapy that could help cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. CF is a rare, life-threatening, genetic disease that affects between 70,000 and 100,000 patients worldwide. In the U.S. and U.K., average life expectancy is 35 to 40 years old and currently there is no cure.

Biopharmaceutical R&D is a lengthy, challenging and expensive pursuit. But we are inspired by that goal of helping patients and changing lives. So, we keep improving and investing, and revenue generated from on-market medicines enables us to fund the innovative R&D that will discover future treatments.

4. Our R&D investment has paved the way for our future

Since 2013, our pipeline of investigational medicines has only grown. When we started on our journey as an independent company, we were known as an immunology company. Today, we are market leaders in immunology, hematologic oncology, aesthetics, neuroscience and eye care. Our investment in R&D has led to life-changing medicines, including cures for some fatal diseases like hepatitis C, improvements in the treatment of chronic autoimmune diseases, and medicines that significantly alter the progression for certain cancers.

That is because we have built a company focused on harnessing innovation for patients, leading to one of the strongest and most diverse pipelines in our industry. We have had 19 major product or indication approvals since 2013. We have also more than tripled the number of programs in clinical development. We anticipate 12 new products or indications over the next two years.

R&D is how we help the patients of tomorrow

When people think of large pharmaceutical companies, they don’t often think of biochemists staying late to get lab results or data scientists poring over real time data on patient outcomes. But they should.

Because it’s science – and the billions we have invested in our science – that drives this company. There are scientists in our labs today who come to work every day with one goal: to help patients. Many work years to advance a molecule to the next stage of clinical development. They are working to get patients back to their lives, back to their families. I’m tremendously proud that AbbVie has helped millions of patients, but I’m even prouder of our potential and of what we can do for the millions who still need new and better treatments. The innovation in our labs has always connected us to patients.

And it always will.