The annual Drugs to Watch report from Thomson Reuters is out, identifying 11 “potential blockbusters,” a huge increase from the three highlighted in 2014.
The report points to “new-to-market drugs expected to lead the pack in sales and potentially [earn] $US1 billion+ by 2019,” the company said in a statement. Three of the drugs are forecast to earn more than $US3 billion in 2019.
Here’s the forecasted sales growth for each drug:
“Key trends to watch in 2015 are the rise of immuno-oncology approaches for treating cancer, the race to be the next big cholesterol drug, the entry of a first-in-class heart failure drug, and the entry of more convenient all-oral regimes for [Hepatitis C virus],” Charlotte Jago, a Thomson Reuters analyst, noted in the report.
The top seller?
Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo, which the report predicts will lead the pack with 2019 sales of $US5.6 billion, was originally approved in the US in December to treat advanced, treatment-resistant melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Then, in March, the FDA expanded its possible uses by approving the immunotherapy drug to treat certain types of late-stage lung cancer as well after patients in a trial lived 3 months longer with Opdivo than with docetaxel, a form of chemotherapy. An earlier trial found that just 15% of patients responded to the drug, though more than half of those saw positive results last six months or longer.
Opdivo represents one of a suite of drugs pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop that harness the immune system to fight cancer. Results have been promising, but mixed.
The drug will cost patients $US12,500 a month, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The report also notes that Merck and Roche are working on rival drugs.
More people in the US die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer.
The blockbuster model
A “blockbuster” is defined as a drug that earns more than $US1 billion in annual sales.
“In terms of pharma development, it remains to be seen as to whether this large number of blockbusters will signify the endurability of the blockbuster model,” Jago told Business Insider in an email.
Much of the pharmaceutical industry’s growth in the past two decades has been due to the success of mega-blockbuster drugs like Lipitor. “More than half of the revenue of major pharmaceutical companies and above one-third of the total pharmaceutical revenues came from the sales of these blockbuster drugs,” University of Southern California researchers noted in a 2010 analysis. As patents on many of those money-making drugs expire, pharmaceutical companies have been desperately trying to find new sources of reliable revenue.
Estimates of the number of people taking cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor range from 11 million to 30 million. But pharmaceutical companies can also make a killing on drugs that may not treat the same huge number of people, but come with a huge pricetag.
About 3.2 million Americans have chronic, active Hepatitis C, for example, and many of the drugs pharmaceutical companies are banking on now are expensive new treatments that serve a smaller but still significant population. Gilead’s Sovaldi, for example, is a Hepatitis C treatment launched in 2013 that has sparked both controversy (it costs $US84,000 for patients) and remarkable earnings ($US8.551 billion in the first three quarters of 2014, according to Thomson Reuters).
Years ago, industry analysts were predicting that the wave of patent expirations would signal the end of the blockbuster model, but the new Thomson Reuters report — forecasting 11 new drugs that might reach blockbuster status by 2019 — suggests those predictions might have come too soon.