In 2011, AstraZeneca embarked on a major revision of its research and development (R&D) strategy with the aim of improving R&D productivity, which was below industry averages in 2005-2010. A cornerstone of the revised strategy was to focus decision-making on five technical determinants (the right target, right tissue, right safety, right patient and right commercial potential). In this article, we describe the progress made using this '5R framework' in the hope that our experience could be useful to other companies tackling R&D productivity issues. We focus on the evolution of our approach to target validation, hit and lead optimization, pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic modelling and drug safety testing, which have helped improve the quality of candidate drug nomination, as well as the development of the right culture, where 'truth seeking' is encouraged by more rigorous and quantitative decision-making. We also discuss where the approach has failed and the lessons learned. Overall, the continued evolution and application of the 5R framework are beginning to have an impact, with success rates from candidate drug nomination to phase III completion improving from 4% in 2005-2010 to 19% in 2012-2016.