You probably realize that significant improvement is being made in the fight against cancer. But sometimes we can underestimate just how much improvement is being made until we see hard numbers in front of our faces.

The IQVIA (IQV -0.03%) Institute for Human Data Science recently released its Global Oncology Trends 2019 report. And it contained plenty of such numbers that reflect the progress being made in developing new treatments for cancer. Here are 10 jaw-dropping numbers in the IQVIA report and what they mean for investors.

Capsule opened with boxing glove on mechanical arm punching a cancer cell

Image source: Getty Images.

1. A record 15 new cancer drugs launched in 2018

The report noted that 15 new cancer drugs launched last year. That might not seem like an overly impressive number. But it reflected a record-high total. The new cancer drugs on the market notably include Pfizer's (PFE 0.76%) Lorviqua and Vizimpro for treating non-small cell lung cancer and Talzenna for treating breast cancer and Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ 0.87%) Erleada in treating prostate cancer. 

2. More than 212,000 patients treated with immunotherapies last year

Immunotherapies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's (BMY 0.64%) Opdivo and Merck's (MRK 0.15%) Keytruda have become powerhouses in treating several types of cancer. More than 212,000 cancer patients were treated with immunotherapies last year. To put that number in perspective, it's a 34% increase from 2017. As recently as 2014, only around 2,400 patients were treated using immunotherapies. 

3. Nearly 450 immunotherapies in development

While several immunotherapies are on the market today, there could be a lot more in the future. Nearly 450 immunotherapies are currently in clinical development, according to the IQVIA report. And they use more than 60 different mechanisms of actions to fight cancer.

4. Nearly 100 next-generation biotherapeutics in late-stage development

IQVIA reported that there are nearly 100 next-generation biotherapeutics targeting cancer in late-stage development. Roughly one-fourth of these programs were chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapies. But there even more cancer vaccines in late-stage development, making up around 36% of the next-generation candidates.

5. Over 700 companies developing late-stage cancer drugs

Sure, big drugmakers like Bristol-Myers Squibb, J&J, Merck, and Pfizer have major oncology programs. The IQVIA report stated that 28 big pharma companies with annual revenue topping $5 billion are actively developing cancer drugs. But there are many others in the fray. The report said that over 700 companies in total are developing late-stage cancer drugs. Out of those, 494 claim late-stage pipelines that are exclusively focused on oncology. 

6. Number of cancer clinical trials up 27% year over year

With so many companies focused on developing cancer drugs, you might think that the number of clinical trials for such drugs is on the rise. And you'd be right. The IQVIA analysis found that the number of cancer clinical trials increased by 27% in 2018 from the previous year to 1,170. 

7. Clinical trial productivity improvements of 104% expected

Not only are there more cancer clinical trials, but the productivity of those trials is also improving. The IQVIA report noted that the productivity of clinical trials of cancer drugs, defined as the success rates of the studies divided by the trial complexity and duration, has increased by 22% since 2010. Even better, the use of pre-screened patients in cancer clinical studies could boost productivity by 104% by 2023. And the availability of genetic biomarker tests could increase productivity by another 71% within the same period.

8. Median time from first patent filing to regulatory approval down four years from 2017

The median time between the first patent filing and regulatory approval for the new cancer drugs launched last year was 10.5 years. That's a decrease of more than four years from the median for the new cancer drugs launched in 2017. By comparison, the average time between first patent filing and regulatory approval for non-oncology therapies launched in 2018 was 15 years.

9. The top 38 cancer drugs generated 80% of total sales

Not all cancer drugs are equally successful in the marketplace. The IQVIA report stated that the top 38 cancer drugs generated 80% of total sales. That's probably not likely to change anytime soon. Market research company EvaluatePharma projects that three of the world's top five biggest blockbusters in 2024 will be cancer drugs.

10. Less than 50% of newer cancer drugs available outside of nine countries

While the IQVIA report contained a lot of reason for optimism about the development of cancer drugs, there was one startling statistic that wasn't so cheerful. Less than 50% of cancer drugs launched in the last five years are available to patients who live outside of nine countries: the U.S., Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, Japan, and Australia.

What these numbers mean for investors

Several of these numbers point to the prospects of tremendous advancement in treating cancer in the coming years. And that means that investors will have opportunities to profit by buying the stocks of companies with especially promising cancer drugs.

There also should be significant opportunities for cancer drugs that have already been approved to experience international sales growth. In particular, China and India, which claim the largest populations in the world, should present growth opportunities.

The biggest winners are likely to be smaller biotechs with cancer drugs that perform really well in late-stage clinical studies. For example, Iovance Biotherapeutics (IOVA -1.07%) emerged as a favorite for investors following the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting because of its positive data for two tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) cell therapies. 

But small biotechs also have a much greater level of risk than big pharma companies do. Huge drugmakers like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer should be safer bets for investors to benefit from what's shaping up to be a golden age in the fight against cancer.