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Has developing new medicines got more lucrative?

Discovering and developing new treatments for diseases is notoriously expensive, with many rejected potential medicines littering the path to one lucrative, successful drug. But now it seems it could be becoming slightly more rewarding.

Since 2010, the rate of return on investment in pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) has shrunk every year, as a number of much hoped-for drugs failed in late-stage clinical trials, causing serious industry-wide problems as companies scrambled to replace best-selling drugs coming close to the expiry of their patents.

In 2014, this trend finally turned around, as the return on R&D rose from 5.1 percent to 5.5 percent, according to a study by Deloitte.

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The cost of bringing a new medicine to market is still huge and rising every year, and is now $1.4 billion on average.

However, pharma companies have managed to raise their rates of return through restructuring and streamlining the process used to develop new drugs -- often involving large job cuts, and better identifying the drugs which will actually work, has helped pharma companies raise their rates of return.

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"Industrial scale models were falling short," Julian Remnant, head of Deloitte's European R&D advisory practice, told CNBC.

"Bigger is not better—what counts is where you put investment and how you restructure within organization."

Bringing "empowerment back to the scientific workbench" by new, more simplified management structures has helped make the pipeline of new medicines stronger, Remnant argued.

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So, too, has buying in medicines discovered elsewhere, therefore shifting much of the risk involved in early stage research. In the 12 biggest players in the industry, less than half of projected revenues for later-stage drugs comes from compounds discovered in their own laboratories.

"The majority of the industry's value is now coming from external sources of innovation, and these external assets are showing higher future forecasts than those from internal labs," Neil Lesser, principal and life sciences R&D strategy lead at Deloitte US, said.

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