Pharma

Why drugmakers and investors are pouring money into immunology

Analysts project the immunology market will be worth $257 billion by 2032.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

One of the hottest areas of the pharmaceutical industry today is immunology, in which drugmakers develop treatments for immune-based conditions—like Lupus or Celiac disease—which affect approximately 50 million people in the US, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Pharma companies and investors have heavily funded the immunology space in recent years. Biopharmaceutical company Biogen, for example, announced in May it would drop a max total of $1.2 billion to acquire immunology drugmaker Human Immunology Biosciences, also known as HI-Bio. Also in mid-May, private equity firm Blackstone Life Sciences invested roughly $300 million in immunology and inflammation drug startup Uniquity Bio.

And the immunology field is expected to only get more popular: Market research firm Fortune Business Insights projected that the global immunology market will grow to $257 billion by 2032, compared to $98 billion in 2023, which was roughly 6% of the overall global pharmaceutical market that year, according to Statista estimates.

So, why immunology? There are a few factors that can explain why the medicines are so popular right now, Kiran Reddy, senior managing director at Blackstone Life Sciences, told Healthcare Brew.

A big one is how much money they’ve made for pharma companies.

“If you look at the top 10 medicines today from a revenue perspective, I would argue that 50% of them are immunology drugs,” Reddy said. “That then provides very clear precedent [that] you can have very successful biopharmaceutical products in immunology. That’s a core of why a lot of people are motivated to continue to invest in the space.”

Pharma giant AbbVie’s immunology drug Humira is currently the best-selling drug of all time, bringing in about $200 billion over the last two decades. Humira treats rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and a number of other inflammatory conditions. After the drug lost patent exclusivity in 2023, AbbVie turned its focus to two other immunology drugs called Skyrizi and Rinvoq to make up for the drop in Humira sales. These drugs treat many of the same immune conditions as Humira, and are performing better than AbbVie initially projected, bringing in a combined $3.1 billion in Q1 2024.

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Reddy added that immunology drugs also have a relatively high chance of success in clinical trials. As scientific understanding of immune-based diseases has advanced in recent years, it’s become easier for drugmakers to figure out how to develop these treatments, he said.

Immunology drugs like Humira are generally able to treat more than one condition at a time, too.

“The beauty of developing a drug in immunology is that even if you get one indication wrong, you still might get your drug approved because you can run multiple Phase 3 trials,” Reddy said. “That’s a good, smart return on investment and a risk-adjusted probability of success that is higher in immunology.”

Scientists are also starting to realize that the immune system plays an important role in diseases not commonly thought of as being immune-based, such as Alzheimer’s, Reddy added, which opens the door for immunology drugs to be used for an even wider array of conditions.

Another contributing factor is that there have been limited treatment options for many immune-based diseases. For example, according to the FDA, there is still a “great need for better treatments” for Lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects roughly 1.5 million people in the US. Reddy said that, thanks to advancing research in this sector, there’s a lot of optimism the newer generations of immunology drugs could improve treatment for—or even cure—some of these conditions.

The number of people with autoimmune diseases is on the rise, too, leading to a larger patient base. Some studies estimate that the prevalence of autoimmune diseases in the US is rising as much as 12% per year, according to the nonprofit Autoimmune Association.

Given the attractiveness of the field, Reddy said immunology will likely continue to be an investment target for Blackstone Life Sciences.

“We are absolutely interested in bringing in more potential medicines that this team can develop,” he said. “We do have a longer-term strategy that immunology will be an important focus for us from an investment perspective.”

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Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.