12 block­busters: The surg­ing list of $1B-plus drugs rolling out on the mar­ket this year might sur­prise you

What ex­act­ly qual­i­fies as a suc­cess in drug R&D may be dis­cussed and dis­put­ed in many ways, but noth­ing lays an ar­gu­ment to rest quite as de­ci­sive­ly as the re­al pos­si­bil­i­ty of block­buster sta­tus.

The da­ta an­a­lysts at Clar­i­vate An­a­lyt­ics have just as­sem­bled their an­nu­al list of all the drugs that are rolling out on­to the mar­ket this year with a sol­id shot at break­ing the one bil­lion-dol­lar an­nu­al bar­ri­er by 2022, and their ros­ter — 12 like­ly block­busters which I’ve de­tailed be­low — pro­vides some in­ter­est­ing in­sights in­to the state of drug R&D to­day.

Richard Har­ri­son

First, it’s a re­mark­ably eclec­tic col­lec­tion of ther­a­pies, with sev­er­al built on the 46 new ap­provals the FDA post­ed in 2017 — a record 52 if you in­clude some re­mark­able new bi­o­log­ics. At a time when on­col­o­gy cap­tures the largest sin­gle share of the mon­ey be­ing in­vest­ed in the field, on­ly 1 of the 12 is for treat­ing can­cer. Two are for di­a­betes, and the rest are scat­tered across 9 dif­fer­ent dis­ease ar­eas.

“I like the fact that no one thing dom­i­nates,” says Richard Har­ri­son, the CSO at Clar­i­vate. “It tells me that the in­dus­try is look­ing at a lot more in­di­ca­tions.”

Not on­ly is there an ar­ray of dis­eases rep­re­sent­ed on the list, there are some new play­ers mak­ing their ap­pear­ance for the first time — Al­ny­lam and GW Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — high­light­ing how years of in­vest­ment in biotech has be­gun to pay off in re­mark­able ways and with new com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions. An­oth­er small play­er, In­di­v­ior, al­so made the list with the first month­ly dose of buprenor­phine.

The drug R&D in­dus­try went through quite a stretch of low pro­duc­tiv­i­ty over the last decade, Har­ri­son notes. But a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors — bet­ter clin­i­cal strate­gies, bio­mark­ers and so on — have ul­ti­mate­ly con­spired to cre­ate greater ef­fi­cien­cies at dis­cov­er­ing drugs. And that’s why Clar­i­vate is post­ing the longest list of this kind since they start­ed in 2013.

It’s al­ways hard to pre­dict the fu­ture, Har­ri­son added, but he would like to see the surge con­tin­ue in 2019. All the trends he can point to in 2018 all seem to have some durable fea­tures that should last for some time to come.

And with that, here are the 12.

  1. Hem­li­bra (emi­cizum­ab)

De­vel­op­er: Roche
Dis­ease: He­mo­phil­ia
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $4 bil­lion

The scoop: It’s no sur­prise to find Hem­li­bra at the top of the list. Roche’s land­mark suc­cess for this drug has every­one in the he­mo­phil­ia mar­ket look­ing at a tec­ton­ic shift in mar­ket share. Hem­li­bra helped ease con­cerns about Roche’s abil­i­ty to roll with the loss of patent pro­tec­tion on three big fran­chise drugs. And it’s like­ly to be the biggest longterm suc­cess on this list, by far. That’s not ex­act­ly what ri­vals at Shire or No­vo Nordisk want to hear. But this is a ma­jor ad­vance for pa­tients, and the first big thing to come along in 20 years in he­mo­phil­ia. There may be big things ahead for this drug, but for now Roche is lead­ing the way.


2. Bik­tarvy (bicte­gravir/emtric­itabine/teno­fovir alafe­namide)

De­vel­op­er: Gilead
Dis­ease: HIV
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $3.71 bil­lion

The scoop: To be sure, Gilead has some en­er­gized com­pe­ti­tion at GSK’s ma­jor­i­ty owned Vi­iV. Nev­er­the­less, Gilead is build­ing on one of the most durable fran­chis­es in drug de­vel­op­ment, as­sured of a block­buster mar­ket for a sin­gle ther­a­py that will make life eas­i­er for many peo­ple liv­ing with HIV. One day, there may be a cure for the virus. But un­til then, no one knows how to work this field bet­ter than Gilead.


3. Ozem­pic (semaglu­tide)

De­vel­op­er: No­vo Nordisk
Dis­ease: Di­a­betes (stud­ied for obe­si­ty)
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $3.47 bil­lion

The scoop: You have to give No­vo Nordisk top cred­it for run­ning a savvy de­vel­op­ment pro­gram. They are go­ing af­ter Eli Lil­ly’s Trulic­i­ty, and they came up with the da­ta to prove their drug was bet­ter. And they al­so have some re­mark­able stats on weight loss that in­spired a move in­to the clin­ic for obe­si­ty, with the kind of safe­ty da­ta in hand that would make any added des­ig­na­tion on that front a like­ly block­buster all on its own. Di­a­betes is a rugged­ly com­pet­i­tive field, with a few gi­ants dom­i­nat­ed the land­scape. In that re­spect, No­vo con­tin­ues to punch well above its weight.


4. Er­lea­da (apa­lu­tamide)

De­vel­op­er: J&J
Dis­ease: Non-metasta­t­ic prostate can­cer
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $2 bil­lion

The scoop: Here again you can see how the biotech ecosys­tem is pay­ing div­i­dends for Big Phar­ma. J&J had some nasty set­backs in 2017, but this drug snagged in its Aragon ac­qui­si­tion looks ready to pay off at a crit­i­cal junc­ture. J&J is fac­ing the near-term loss of patent pro­tec­tion on Zyti­ga, which is sold for metasta­t­ic prostate can­cer. The ap­proval in Feb­ru­ary, months ahead of the nor­mal reg­u­la­to­ry sched­ule, al­so un­der­scores the FDA’s will­ing­ness to run out the green light in record time, par­tic­u­lar­ly in on­col­o­gy.


5. Shin­grix

De­vel­op­er: Glax­o­SmithK­line
Dis­ease: Shin­gles
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.37 bil­lion

The scoop: GSK doesn’t make these lists for its phar­ma prod­ucts. But it still has a vi­brant vac­cines group. New CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley, though, seems fed up with its chron­ic sec­ond place rank­ing in drug de­vel­op­ment, and in­tends to make some things change as the com­pa­ny fo­cus­es on few­er, but big­ger, new drugs. We’ll see.


6. Patisir­an

De­vel­op­er: Al­ny­lam
Dis­ease: Herid­i­tary TTR Amy­loi­do­sis
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.21 bil­lion

The scoop: Al­ny­lam has some com­pe­ti­tion at Io­n­is, but when an­a­lysts start count­ing the dol­lars, vir­tu­al­ly all of them as­sign the li­on’s share in the field to Al­ny­lam. This is lin­ing up as the Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech’s first ap­proval, and it’s a big one. If this pays off as ex­pect­ed, and some of the peak sales es­ti­mates go much high­er, Al­ny­lam can sus­tain its ground­break­ing RNAi plat­form for some time. It’s an im­pres­sive achieve­ment, no mat­ter how you cut it.


7. Epid­i­olex

De­vel­op­er: GW Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals
Dis­ease: Dravet syn­drome and Lennox-Gas­taut syn­drome
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.19 bil­lion

The scoop: Per­haps it’s not too sur­pris­ing that a cannabis-based ther­a­py can re­duce the rate of seizures for two rare syn­dromes. But GW has im­pressed an­a­lysts with a set of late-stage re­sults that de­ci­sive­ly makes their case. The first PDU­FA date is loom­ing June 27, and the biotech is the odds-on fa­vorite for bring­ing the block­buster.


8. Aimovig (erenum­ab)

De­vel­op­er: Am­gen/No­var­tis
Dis­ease: Mi­graine
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.17 bil­lion

The scoop: Am­gen and No­var­tis don’t have the on­ly CGRP mi­graine drug head­ed to a like­ly ap­proval. The da­ta on these drugs aren’t dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent. Safe­ty looks good. And play­ers rang­ing from Te­va to Eli Lil­ly to lit­tle Alder (and lat­er Al­ler­gen) are all an­gling for their own piece of the pie. But the two heavy­weights do have the first drug un­der re­view at the FDA. Way out front, they are like­ly to be the first to start chang­ing the stan­dard of care in the field. That’s a big deal, and one they promise to make the most of.


9. Lanadelum­ab

De­vel­op­er: Shire
Dis­ease: Hered­i­tary an­gioede­ma
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.15 bil­lion

The scoop: Back in May, when Shire post­ed the da­ta on lanadelum­ab, it was quick­ly ap­par­ent that Shire’s pipeline star had po­ten­tial stel­lar fu­ture ahead of it. The FDA sig­naled their agree­ment with a quick re­view sched­ule. Shire CEO Flem­ming Orn­skov likes to set stretch goals for the com­pa­ny, and he’s done it here as well, pro­ject­ing $2 bil­lion in peak sales. Even if he doesn’t hit that mark, though, it seems like he’d be hard pressed to miss block­buster sta­tus.


10. Elagolix

De­vel­op­er: Ab­b­Vie
Dis­ease: En­dometrio­sis
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.15 bil­lion

The scoop: Ab­b­Vie would seem to have an ap­proval to mar­ket this drug for en­dometrio­sis al­most in the bag, with sol­id da­ta and an ac­cel­er­at­ed time­line at the FDA that seems to al­most al­ways bode well for de­vel­op­ers. More re­cent­ly, Ab­b­Vie added a full slate of pos­i­tive da­ta from two Phase III stud­ies for uter­ine fi­broids, in­di­cat­ing that broad­er and bet­ter things lie ahead for this new fran­chise ther­a­py. Clar­i­vate’s num­ber here is right in line with mar­ket con­sen­sus, but Ge­of­frey Porges is cheer­ing things along with a $1.4 bil­lion pro­jec­tion. The com­pa­ny got this drug in a $575 mil­lion deal it struck in 2010 with Neu­ro­crine $NBIX, which stands to earn a roy­al­ty pay­out on an ap­proval.


11. Steglatro (er­tugliflozin)

De­vel­op­er: Pfiz­er/Mer­ck
Dis­ease: Di­a­betes
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.09 bil­lion

The scoop: Pfiz­er and Mer­ck are late to the SGLT2 par­ty. Sev­er­al years late, to be ex­act. Eli Lil­ly got out front with Jar­diance and a full set of ri­vals fol­lowed in their paths. Nev­er­the­less, di­a­betes is a mas­sive and grow­ing mar­ket, leav­ing a new ar­rival like this still with­in reach of a block­buster re­turn. Steglatro isn’t win­ning awards for in­no­va­tion, but it’s help­ing pa­tients and of­fer­ing some com­pe­ti­tion in an in­tense­ly com­pet­i­tive are­na. That’s worth some re­ward.


12. Sublo­cade (Once-month­ly buprenor­phine)

De­vel­op­er: In­di­v­ior
Dis­ease: Opi­oid de­pen­dence
2022 pro­ject­ed sales: $1.07 bil­lion

The scoop: In­di­v­ior need­ed this drug ap­proval, bad­ly. With gener­ic ri­vals about to crowd in on its stan­dard treat­ment, a month­ly in­jectable of buprenor­phine — us­ing a mild opi­oid — is a wel­come ad­di­tion to the field of eas­ing opi­oid with­draw­al — one of the hottest is­sues of the day. The FDA in­di­cat­ed that it would help, and with the agency lean­ing in fa­vor of the in­dus­try like nev­er be­fore, that’s mon­ey in the bank.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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David Hallal

AlloVir tests how much an an­tivi­ral biotech can reap in a pan­dem­ic stock mar­ket

The pandemic stock market has proven fruitful for virtually any type of biotech. Now a 7-year-old cell therapy startup will see how much it can yield for a company that specializes in fighting viruses.

AlloVir, a company that until 2019 largely lived off grant money, has filed for a $100 million IPO to back its line of off-the-shelf, virus-fighting T cells. Although in normal circumstances, $100 million could be a solid return for a biotech that got its first major round of funding only last year, we’ll have to wait to see how much the company ultimately earns. As Covid-19 has sent investor money scurrying to almost anyone in drug development, every single biotech to go public this year has prized above their midpoint or upsized their offering, according to Renaissance Capital, sometimes dramatically so.

Noubar Afeyan, Flagship CEO and Tessera chairman (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Flag­ship ex­ecs take a les­son from na­ture to mas­ter ‘gene writ­ing,’ launch­ing a star-stud­ded biotech with big am­bi­tions to cure dis­ease

Flagship Pioneering has opened up its deep pockets to fund a biotech upstart out to revolutionize the whole gene therapy/gene editing field — before gene editing has even made it to the market. And they’ve surrounded themselves with some marquee scientists and execs who have crowded around to help shepherd the technology ahead.

The lead player here is Flagship general partner Geoff von Maltzahn, an MIT-trained synthetic biologist who set out in 2018 to do CRISPR — a widely used gene editing tool — and other rival technologies one or two better. Von Maltzahn has been working with Sana co-founder Jake Rubens, another synthetic biology player out of MIT who he describes as his “superstar,” who’s taken the CSO role.

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Covid-19 roundup: Squab­bles with gov­ern­ment de­lay Mod­er­na’s PhI­II — re­ports; No­vavax se­cures largest Warp Speed deal yet: $1.6B

A much-anticipated Phase III trial for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is being held up as the company delayed submitting trial protocols and sparred with government scientists on how to run the study and even what the benchmark for success should be, Reuters reported.

Moderna, the first US company to put their vaccine into human testing, was supposed to enter a 30,000-person study this month in partnership with the NIH to determine whether it can prevent infection. STAT reported last week that the trial was facing delays over the protocol, but that a July start was still possible. Neither the NIH nor Moderna ever disclosed a specific date the trial should start, but Reuters reported that the agency had hoped to begin on July 10.

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Boehringer In­gel­heim ties the knot with Num­ab on new an­ti­bod­ies; Ca­balet­ta inks pact with Ar­ti­san

→ Switzerland’s Numab Therapeutics has added Boehringer Ingelheim to its roster of collaborators. And they will start with two projects aiming at developing new drugs for difficult-to-treat lung and gastrointestinal cancers and patients with geographic atrophy. “Numab’s technology platform fits well with our internal antibody discovery and engineering capabilities and will enhance our efforts to deliver transformative antibody-based therapeutics to patients,” said Paige Mahaney, an SVP at Boehringer Ingelheim.

Take­da’s post-merg­er deals con­tin­ue as OTC sub­sidiary is pre­pared for sale

Takeda has been burdened under mountains of debt since acquiring Shire for $62 billion 18 months ago, but one of the company’s biggest moves yet to relieve the stress could be on the horizon.

The Japanese pharma is preparing a bidding war for its $3.7 billion over-the-counter subsidiary, a sale that would dwarf previous spinoffs. Any transaction would be the latest in what’s been a long string of sell-offs, as Takeda marches unflinchingly toward its ultimate goal of shedding $10 billion in assets.

In­vestors give ail­ing Unum a lease on life and a whole new suite of ex­per­i­men­tal can­cer drugs

Investors, it seems, are willing to give Unum Therapeutics one last shot — or at least one last shot to a company of that name.

The ailing cancer biotech, beset by a series of clinical holds and multiple failed lead programs, announced today that they’ve acquired Kiq LLC and that investors are putting in $104 million to advance Kiq’s pipeline of kinase inhibitors. Unum shareholders will now own only 16.2% of the company and CEO Chuck Wilson indicated that the cell therapies the biotech has worked on since its founding may be on their way out, saying Unum will “explore strategic options” for those products.

RA Cap­i­tal dou­bles down on Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee's vi­sion for a new cell en­gi­neer­ing ap­proach, lead­ing Vor's $110M Se­ries B

Vor Biopharma is muscling up.

CEO Robert Ang, who was reluctant to divulge the headcount when discussing his move from Neon Therapeutics to Vor last August, readily offered that the team has grown from 6 to 50 in less than a year. The biotech is moving to a larger office on Cambridge Parkway Drive in weeks, giving it more space to complete the IND-enabling work and manufacturing scale-up — conducted by a CDMO partner — in preparation for clinical trials planned for the first half of 2021.