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.

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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San Diego cou­ple charged with steal­ing trade se­crets, open­ing Chi­nese biotech as DOJ crack­down con­tin­ues

A San Diego couple has been charged with stealing trade secrets from a US hospital and opening a business based off those secrets in China as the controversial industry-wide crackdown on alleged corporate espionage continues. On the same day, the Department of Justice announced they had arrested Beijing representative Zhongsan Liu for allegedly trying to obtain research visas for government recruiters.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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Tower Bridge in London [Shutterstock]

#UK­BIO19: Join GSK’s Hal Bar­ron and a group of top biotech ex­ecs for our 2nd an­nu­al biotech sum­mit in Lon­don

Over the past 10 years I’ve made a point of getting to know the Golden Triangle and the special role the UK biopharma industry plays there in drug development. The concentration of world class research institutes, some of the most accomplished scientists I’ve ever seen at work and a rising tide of global investment cash leaves an impression that there’s much, much more to come as biotech hubs are birthed and nurtured.

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen pulls the plug on prized IPF drug from $562M+ Stromedix buy­out

One of Biogen’s attempts to branch out has flopped as the biotech scraps a mid-stage program for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Warts for the win: Aclar­is' lead drug clears piv­otal study

Aclaris Therapeutics has found a way to get rid of the warts and all.

The company — which earlier this month decided to focus on its arsenal of kinase inhibitors — on Monday unveiled positive data from a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug for use in common warts.

The drug, A-101, was tested in a 502-patient study called THWART-2 — patients enrolled had one to six warts before qualifying for the trial. Patients either self-administered A-101 topical solution or a vehicle twice a week over a two-month period. A higher proportion of patients on the drug (a potent hydrogen peroxide topical solution) saw their warts disappear at day 60, versus the vehicle (p<0.0001) — meeting the main goal of the study.  Each secondary endpoint also emerged in favor of A-101, the company said.

Charles Nichols, LSU School of Medicine

Could psy­che­delics tack­le the obe­si­ty cri­sis? A long­time re­searcher in the field says his lat­est mouse study sug­gests po­ten­tial

Psychedelics have experienced a renaissance in recent years amid a torrent of preclinical and clinical research suggesting it might provide a path to treat mood disorders conventional remedies have only scraped at. Now a preclinical trial from a young biotech suggests at least one psychedelic compound has effects beyond the mind, and — if you believe the still very, very early hype — could provide the first single remedy for some of the main complications of obesity.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Ac­celeron drops a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram as #2 drug fails to spark func­tion­al ben­e­fits in pa­tients with a rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ail­ment

Acceleron is scrapping a muscular dystrophy development program underway for its number 2 drug in the pipeline after pouring over some failed mid-stage secondary data.

Gone is the ACE-083 project in patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. Their drug hit the primary endpoint on building muscle but flopped on key secondaries for functional improvements in patients, which execs felt was vital to the drug’s success.