Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market - Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecast (2022 - 2027)

The Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market is Segmented by Therapeutic Area (Oncology, Central Nervous System, Cardiovascular, Respiratory, Metabolic Disorders, Gastrointestinal, and Other Therapeutic Areas), Process/Phase (Target ID/Validation, Hit Generation and Selection, Lead Identification, and Lead Optimization), and Geography (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle-East and Africa, and South America). The report offers the value (in USD million) for the above segments.

Market Snapshot

Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market Size
Study Period: 2019-2027
Base Year: 2021
Fastest Growing Market: Asia Pacific
Largest Market: North America
CAGR: 8.05 %

Need a report that reflects how COVID-19 has impacted this market and its growth?

Market Overview

The small molecule drug discovery market is expected to register a CAGR of nearly 8.05% during the forecast period, 2022-2027.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the health systems of countries have been heavily investing in research and development to combat the virus. Research groups across the world have set about identifying small molecule drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 by screening both novel and existing drugs for their ability to alleviate symptoms and stem viral replication. Thus, in view of the ongoing pandemic, the small molecule drug discovery market is expected to be positively impacted by the urge to find a cure for COVID-19.

The rising applications of small molecule drugs in the treatment of chronic disorders are leading to the rising demand for small molecule drugs in the market, according to the study published in 'European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry titled 'Discovery of small-molecule candidates against inflammatory bowel disease' published in October 2019, recent advances in the discovery of small-molecule candidates and natural compounds with promising in vivo potential for anti-inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) treatment. The rising advances in small molecule development for the treatment of IBD will further increase the demand for small molecule drugs, thereby expected to propel market growth. Moreover, increasing chronic diseases propel market growth. According to the Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2019, around 116.4 million people, which accounts for 46% of adults in the United States, were estimated to have hypertension. As per the American Cancer Society, in 2020, approximately 1.8 million new cancer cases are anticipated to be diagnosed, and around 606,520 cancer deaths may occur in the United States. The increase in chronic diseases is expected to increase the demand for treatments, resulting in the high growth of the market.

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly outsourcing their R&D activities, including early-stage research programs, to third-party organizations such as academic institutions, biotech startups, and private contract research organizations (CROs) to remain competitive, flexible, and profitable in the face of adversity.​ According to the American Chemical Society in 2021, pharmaceutical corporations have traditionally focused their efforts on China, Asia's largest market and home to the world's largest contract research organization, and are now expanding into India, as the Indian CROs are low-cost compound synthesizers along with providing world-class chemistry-service. Expanding CRO networks for the research and development activities is further said to drive the growth of the small molecules drug discovery market.

Rising technological advancements and the preference for small molecules, along with the rising disease complications, have led major players to increase their R&D expenditure, which is further acting as the major growth factor for the market. Rising approvals from Food and Drug applications for small molecules are also expected to drive the growth of the small molecule drug discovery market. For instance, according to the data published on Mid-Year Review: New Drug Approvals in June 2021, the United States Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has authorized 26 New Molecular Entity's (NMEs) at the halfway point of 2021 (as of June 28, 2021), which was on par with the full-year 2020 approval rate of 53 NMEs.

However, high drug development costs and strict regulations for drug development are expected to limit the market growth over the forecast period.

Scope of the Report

As per the scope of the report, small molecule drug discovery represents all the costs incurred by a drug discovery company during the discovery phase (all four stages, including target identification/validation, hit generation and selection, lead identification, and lead optimization). A small molecule is a substance that can enter cells easily, as it has a low molecular weight. These are used as drugs for therapeutic purposes and include chemically synthesized drug molecules as well as all the biologically synthesized drug molecules. The Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market is Segmented by Therapeutic Area (Oncology, Central Nervous System, Cardiovascular, Respiratory, Metabolic Disorders, Gastrointestinal, and Other Therapeutic Areas), Process/Phase (Target ID/Validation, Hit Generation, and Selection, Lead Identification, and Lead Optimization), and Geography (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle-East and Africa, and South America). The market report also covers the estimated market sizes and trends for 17 different countries across major regions globally. The report offers the value (in USD million) for the above segments.

By Therapeutic Area
Central Nervous System
Metabolic Disorders
Other Therapeutic Areas
By Process/Phase
Target ID/Validation
Hit Generation and Selection
Lead Identification
Lead Optimization
North America
United States
United Kingdom
Rest of Europe
South Korea
Rest of Asia-Pacific
Middle-East and Africa
South Africa
Rest of Middle-East and Africa
South America
Rest of South America

Report scope can be customized per your requirements. Click here.

Key Market Trends

The Target ID/Validation Segment is Expected to hold a Significant Market Share over the Forecast Period

Target identification is made to identify the direct molecular target, such as protein or nucleic acid, of a small molecule. In the case of clinical pharmacology, target identification is aimed at finding out the efficacy of the target of the drug molecule. The main objective of target validation is to identify and access the chances of a molecular target in achieving the development of pharmaceuticals for therapeutic application.

Three key distinct and complementary approaches are used for target identification and validation, which include genetic interaction methods, direct biochemical methods, and computational interference methods. In many cases, combinations of multiple approaches may be required for the full characterization of the target.

Technology plays a crucial role in every aspect of small molecule drug discovery, starting from target identification and validation to lead optimization. Hence, technological advancements have been acting as a driving factor for the industry. For instance, in October 2020, Standigm Inc. and SK holdings C&C, Co., Ltd opened their Artificial iNtelligence-based target identification platform, iCLUE&ASK, on a trial basis to the public. The platform offers to prioritize protein targets for a query disease and provides the results with evidence through an interactive user interface. ​ Furthermore, in April 2021, Shionogi & Co., Ltd. entered a research collaboration agreement with InveniAI LLC. The agreement includes artificial Intelligence-powered multi-target drug discovery in the area of the psycho-neurological system using AlphaMeld. It is an AI drug discovery platform that enables the identification of multiple targets related to a specific disease and the mechanisms for treating those diseases.​

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has drawn global attention, prompting the urgent need to find specific and broad-spectrum antiviral drugs. A significant number of major biotech firms are in the midst of a race to investigate the Sars-Cov-2 genome and prepare therapeutics for the same. For instance, in November 2020, the South Korean pharma company, Samsung Biologics, entered a long-term agreement with Eli Lilly and Company to manufacture its investigational COVID-19 virus-neutralizing antibody, bamlanivimab. Therefore, this is expected to further drive the segment studied over the forecast period.

Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market Share

North America Expected to Dominate the Market Over the Forecast Period

North America currently dominates the overall industry for small molecule drug discovery and is anticipated to continue its stronghold over the upcoming years. The major factors driving the growth of the market include rising cases of various chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc., and increasing approval of new small molecules in the region. According to the FDA, in 2019, the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) approved 48 new drugs (38 new chemical entities and 10 biologics).

Furthermore, the market players are utilizing technologically advanced tools in small molecule drug discovery. For instance, in November 2019, Genesis Therapeutics announced that it raised USD 4.1 million in seed funding led by Andreessen Horowitz. This company focuses on AI technology to optimize drug developments and discovery.

The United States pharmaceutical industry has been one of the leaders in the development of new medicines, and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) member companies continue to be at the forefront. In 2020, Food and Drug Administration awarded six grants to fund new clinical trials to advance the development of medical products for the treatment of rare diseases. This will boost the demand for small molecule drug discovery because they are used extensively in the drug discovery process.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for North American companies and research organizations to collaborate with the government to develop new small molecule drugs in order to meet future health crises. Several key players and universities are focusing on developing vaccines for coronavirus. For instance, GSK, Novartis, and MSD are working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Eli Lilly partnered with AbCellera for the development of vaccines. Thus, the market is anticipated to witness robust growth over the forecast period.

Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market Analysis

Competitive Landscape

The small molecule drug discovery market is moderately competitive and consists of several major players. In terms of market share, few of the major players currently dominate the market. However, with technological advancements and product innovations, mid-size to smaller companies are increasing their market presence by introducing new ingredients at fewer prices. Companies like Pfizer Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Merck KGaA, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, and GlaxoSmithKline hold a substantial share in the market.

Recent Developments

  • In July 2021, SRI International entered into a research collaboration with Sanofi for the discovery and development of lead candidates in multiple high-profile drug research and development.
  • In June 2021, Servier and PRISM BioLab entered into a Collaboration and Exclusive License Option Agreement. PRISM BioLab provides PepMetics (peptide mimetic small molecules) technology for generating hit and lead compounds against Servier’s novel target.
  • In March 2021, Iktos announced the application of Iktos Artificial Intelligence technology for de novo design to selected Pfizer small-molecule discovery programs.

Table of Contents


    1. 1.1 Study Assumptions and Market Definition

    2. 1.2 Scope of the Study




    1. 4.1 Market Overview

    2. 4.2 Market Drivers

      1. 4.2.1 Rise in Demand for Small Molecule Drugs

      2. 4.2.2 Increasing Number of Contract Organizations for R&D

      3. 4.2.3 Small Molecules in Treatment of Chronic Diseases

    3. 4.3 Market Restraints

      1. 4.3.1 High Drug Development Costs

      2. 4.3.2 Strict Regulations

    4. 4.4 Porter's Five Forces Analysis

      1. 4.4.1 Threat of New Entrants

      2. 4.4.2 Bargaining Power of Buyers/Consumers

      3. 4.4.3 Bargaining Power of Suppliers

      4. 4.4.4 Threat of Substitute Products

      5. 4.4.5 Intensity of Competitive Rivalry

  5. 5. MARKET SEGMENTATION (Market Size by Value – USD million)

    1. 5.1 By Therapeutic Area

      1. 5.1.1 Oncology

      2. 5.1.2 Central Nervous System

      3. 5.1.3 Cardiovascular

      4. 5.1.4 Respiratory

      5. 5.1.5 Metabolic Disorders

      6. 5.1.6 Gastrointestinal

      7. 5.1.7 Other Therapeutic Areas

    2. 5.2 By Process/Phase

      1. 5.2.1 Target ID/Validation

      2. 5.2.2 Hit Generation and Selection

      3. 5.2.3 Lead Identification

      4. 5.2.4 Lead Optimization

    3. 5.3 Geography

      1. 5.3.1 North America

        1. United States

        2. Canada

        3. Mexico

      2. 5.3.2 Europe

        1. Germany

        2. United Kingdom

        3. France

        4. Italy

        5. Spain

        6. Rest of Europe

      3. 5.3.3 Asia-Pacific

        1. China

        2. Japan

        3. India

        4. Australia

        5. South Korea

        6. Rest of Asia-Pacific

      4. 5.3.4 Middle-East and Africa

        1. GCC

        2. South Africa

        3. Rest of Middle-East and Africa

      5. 5.3.5 South America

        1. Brazil

        2. Argentina

        3. Rest of South America


    1. 6.1 Company Profiles

      1. 6.1.1 21st Century Therapeutics Inc.

      2. 6.1.2 BioNTech (4SC-Discovery )

      3. 6.1.3 Acacia Pharma Gr

      4. 6.1.4 Agilent Technologies Inc.

      5. 6.1.5 AstraZeneca

      6. 6.1.6 Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH

      7. 6.1.7 Bristol-Myers Squibb Company

      8. 6.1.8 Gilead Sciences Inc.

      9. 6.1.9 GlaxoSmithKline PLC

      10. 6.1.10 Johnson & Johnson

      11. 6.1.11 Merck KGaA

      12. 6.1.12 Novartis

      13. 6.1.13 Pfizer Inc.

      14. 6.1.14 Takeda Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd

      15. 6.1.15 Teva Pharmaceuticals

    2. *List Not Exhaustive

**Competitive Landscape covers- Business Overview, Financials, Products and Strategies and Recent Developments

You can also purchase parts of this report. Do you want to check out a section wise price list?

Frequently Asked Questions

The Global Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market market is studied from 2019 - 2027.

The Global Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market is growing at a CAGR of 8.05% over the next 5 years.

Asia Pacific is growing at the highest CAGR over 2021- 2026.

North America holds highest share in 2021.

Pfizer Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Merck KGaA, Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH, GlaxoSmithKline PLC are the major companies operating in Global Small Molecule Drug Discovery Market.

80% of our clients seek made-to-order reports. How do you want us to tailor yours?

Please enter a valid email id!

Please enter a valid message!