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.

Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

Phase III read­outs spell dis­as­ter for Genen­tech’s lead IBD drug

Roche had big plans for etrolizumab. Eyeing a hyper-competitive IBD and Crohn’s market where they have not historically been a player, the company rolled out 8 different Phase III trials, testing the antibody for two different uses across a range of different patient groups.

On Monday, Roche released results for 4 of those studies, and they mark a decided setback for both the Swiss pharma and their biotech sub Genentech, potentially spelling an end to a drug they put over half-a-decade and millions of dollars behind.

In­novent and Eli Lil­ly chal­lenge Mer­ck­'s mega-block­buster Keytru­da in non-small cell lung can­cer field

China-based Innovent Biologics and its multinational ally Eli Lilly shared Phase III evidence that their PD-1 inhibitor combo can delay the progression of nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer.

But the drugmakers will face stiff competition in China from Merck’s Keytruda, the ruling PD-1 which is already approved to treat both squamous and nonsquamous NSCLC and boasts positive overall survival rates.

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Anap­tys­Bio's etokimab pro­vides more dis­ap­point­ing re­sults, rais­ing ques­tions about com­pound's fu­ture

The lead program for AnaptysBio’s in-house pipeline has hit another setback.

Etokimab, an IL-33 inhibitor, did not achieve statistically significant improvement in a Phase II trial for patients suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps. Researchers measured the individuals’ bilateral nasal polyps score and sino-nasal outcome test, finding that neither improved upon a placebo after both four- and eight-week time markers, though they did demonstrate improvement over baseline levels of the examinations.

Brian Stuglik, Verastem CEO

The du­velis­ib hot pota­to is tossed to a new own­er as Ve­rastem looks to re­or­ga­nize around the pipeline

When Infinity put up duvelisib for a no-money-down instant deal, the biotech was looking for a quick exit from a clinical disaster. AbbVie had walked away from their alliance after looking at how the data stacked up in a crowded field.

And while it was approvable, it wasn’t looking pretty to anyone who thought in commercial terms.

One Big Pharma’s trash, though, was seen as a biotech treasure as a deeply troubled Verastem stepped up to grab the PI3K-delta/gamma — promising to run it across the goal lines at the FDA. And they did just that, only with little to show for it.

Eric Shaff (Seres)

UP­DAT­ED: Af­ter a 4-year so­journ, strug­gling mi­cro­bio­me pi­o­neer Seres claims a break­out PhI­II come­back. And shares re­spond in fren­zied spike

Almost exactly 4 years ago, Seres Therapeutics $MCRB experienced one of those soul-crunching failures that can raise big questions about a biotech’s future. Out front in their pursuit of a gut punch to C. difficile infection (CDI), the Phase II test was a flat failure, and investors wiped out a billion dollars of equity value that never returned in the years that followed.

Seres, though, pressed ahead, changing out CEOs a year ago — bidding Merck vet Roger Pomerantz farewell from the C suite — and pushing through a Phase III, hoping that amping up the dosage would make the key difference. And this morning, they unveiled a claim that they had aced the Phase III and positioned themselves for a run at a landmark FDA OK.

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Vi­da Ven­tures co-leads Dyne's $115M megaround for next-gen oli­go ther­a­pies aimed square­ly at mus­cles

Dyne Therapeutics started out last April with a modest $50 million to mine targeted muscle disease therapies from its in-house conjugate technology. The biotech has now convinced more investors that it’s got gems on its hands, closing $115 million in fresh financing to push its next-gen oligonucleotide drugs into the clinic.

Vida Ventures and Surveyor Capital led the round, joined by a group of other new backers including Wellington Management Company, Logos Capital and Franklin Templeton.

Eli Lil­ly teams with Pieris on HER2+ tu­mors; Op­di­vo + Yer­voy best chemo in mesothe­lioma

Despite the FDA putting a partial clinical hold on its lead program only a few weeks ago, Boston-based Pieris Pharmaceuticals is plowing forward with a new collaboration.

Pieris will work with Eli Lilly to further advance studies on PRS-343, a 4-1BB/HER2 bispecific for HER2-positive tumors, in combination with the latter’s ramucirumab and paclitaxel for the second-line treatment of patients with HER2-positive gastric cancer in a single-arm, Phase II study.

Gallia Levy, Spark CMO (Roche)

Spark Ther­a­peu­tics nabs new CMO from Genen­tech, fill­ing a ma­jor post-merg­er de­par­ture

Spark Therapeutics is getting a new CMO from their new owners.

The gene therapy company-turned-subsidiary has named Gallia Levy, who had been running rare blood disorders — including clinical development for their blockbuster-potential hemophilia antibody Hemlibra for Roche’s big biotech sub Genentech — to run medical affairs.

The appointment is a fitting one. Roche spent $4.8 billion to acquire Spark last year in large part to get their hands on their hemophilia gene therapy, SPK-8011, and expand the toe-hold Hemlibra gave them in an crowded hemophilia space.  It’s also a somewhat ironic appointment: The FTC held up the Spark acquistions for nearly a year, reportedly over concerns about the anti-trust implications of Roche owning both a top chronic treatment in Hemlibra and a top one-time treatment in Spark’s gene therapy.

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