Readers read, we listen: FiercePharma's top 10 stories of 2016, as chosen by you

Readers are full of surprises.

Sometimes, stories we editors put on top of the news don’t make the cut with readers. Others are unexpected hits. Still others surface from the past as related headlines hit.

Then there’s the odd duck of a story that brings in traffic inexplicably, continuously, like the magic salt mill of Old Norse legend.

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Every year, we have one. And this year, it tops our list of the most-read stories of 2016, an annual feature that shows you, our readers, what you chose to visit on FiercePharma’s website.

It’s a layoffs story, a genre of news that’s unfortunately popular with readers. McKesson, the giant drug wholesaler, said in March it would cut about 4% of its U.S. workforce, or about 1,600 people. The company had been suffering from a slowdown in generic drug price increases—a trend that looks to be continuing—as well as client shifts and consolidation in the retail pharmacy industry.

The rest of our reader-selected news roundup illustrates some perennial story lines in biopharma. M&A chatter, for instance: In this case the implausible rumor of a Novartis-AstraZeneca megamerger. One story rolled up two of them—company restructurings and executive changes—with Novartis’ decision to split its pharma unit into a cancer business on one hand, and everything else on the other. Pharma chief David Epstein left the company simultaneously, leaving Bruno Strigini to take the reins at Novartis Oncology and Paul Hudson in charge of Novartis Pharma.

And then there were the big themes of 2016: Pricing and politics, sometimes both.

The biggest political events of the year were, of course, the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the U.S. presidential election, and both of them touched a chord with readers. Our first coverage of Brexit, focused, naturally, on potential fallout in the drug business, and it took the second-place slot of 2016.

The U.S. election story that captured the most attention at FiercePharma was a double whammy, pairing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the pricing debate that roared all year. Her promises to curb price increases, dubbed a “war with pharma!!” within the campaign, put fear in the hearts of the industry and its investors this year. (Read about the relief after the election at FierceBiotech.)

But the pricing action that really had readers abuzz was—you guessed it—EpiPen. When the brouhaha erupted in August, one of our previous stories about EpiPen’s monopoly power went semi-viral on social media. We’d been following the EpiPen marketing push and competition smackdown for months, and readers flocked to that coverage, including a look at past Mylan scandals that started way, way back before EpiPen pricing increased much at all.

Readers have been similarly loyal to our immuno-oncology drug coverage, with one of the bigger news events in that field taking eighth place on this top 10. It was an unexpected setback for Bristol-Myers Squibb, whose PD-1 immunotherapy Opdivo fell short in a first-line lung cancer trial, leaving the field open for Merck & Co.’s Keytruda. That news sent Bristol-Myers’ shares reeling as analysts quickly subtracted billions from their Opdivo sales estimates and added likewise to the Merck drug’s.

Formulary exclusions are always hot topics, and the list of Express Scripts’ decisions for 2017 pulled in enough attention for ninth place (with similar moves by CVS Health and UnitedHealth among the better-read stories of the year as well).

We’ll wrap up with another unexpectedly popular story, fueled by social media. Biogen, whose quick-to-blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera has suffered a slowdown, had cut costs last year in part to fuel a big advertising push for the lagging drug. Unfortunately, one of its commercials didn’t ring true for MS patients, who found it hard to believe in the smiling, super-active Tecfidera patient depicted in the ad. Biogen later put the kibosh on that particular campaign, and our coverage of that move took ninth place.

We're not just about daily stories, of course. So we'll leave you with the best-read feature of 2016: Fierce Women in Biopharma, our latest in an annual series of features about women making a difference in the industry.

Do you have a favorite story or special report of 2016? Get in touch to let us know. And we always accept news tips, so if you have a scoop that might make 2017's big-news ranking, please pass it along. In the meantime, thank you for reading.