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.

Charles Baum, Mirati CEO

Mi­rati plots a march to the FDA for its KRAS G12C drug, breath­ing down Am­gen’s neck with bet­ter da­ta

Mirati Therapeutics $MRTX took another closely-watched step toward a now clearly defined goal to file for an approval for its KRAS G12C cancer drug adagrasib (MRTX849), scoring a higher response rate than the last readout from the class-leading rival at Amgen but still leaving open a raft of important questions about its future.

Following a snapshot of the first handful of responses, where the drug scored a tumor response in 3 of 5 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the response rate has now slid to 45% among a pooled group of 51 early-stage and Phase II patients, 43% — 6 of 14 — when looking solely at the Phase I/Ib. Those 14 patients had a median treatment duration of 8.2 months, with half still on therapy and 5 of 6 responders still in response.

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In his­toric Covid-19 ad­comm, vac­cine ex­perts de­bate a sea of ques­tions — but of­fer no clear an­swers

The most widely anticipated and perhaps most widely watched meeting in the FDA’s 113-year history ended late Thursday night with a score of questions and very few answers.

For nearly 9 hours, 18 different outside experts listened to public health agencies and foundations present how the United States’ Covid-19 vaccine program developed through October, and they debated where it should go from there: Were companies testing the right metrics in their massive trials? How long should they track patients before declaring a vaccine safe or effective? Should a vaccine, once authorized, be given to the volunteers in the placebo arm of a trial?

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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Biond­Vax stock im­plodes af­ter a big PhI­II gam­ble for its uni­ver­sal flu vac­cine fails

After flying high on Wall Street for the last few months of a pandemic, BiondVax’s stock and dreams of getting approval for its universal flu vaccine hit the windshield.

The Jerusalem-based biotech announced on Friday that its only clinical candidate, M-001, failed both primary and secondary endpoints in a Phase III study. There was no statistically significant difference in reduction of flu illness and severity between the vaccine and placebo groups, according to the company. The vaccine did prove safe, if ineffective, BiondVax said.

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA gives As­traZeneca the thumbs-up to restart PhI­II Covid-19 vac­cine tri­als, and J&J is prepar­ing to re­sume its study

Several countries had restarted their portions of AstraZeneca’s global Phase III Covid-19 vaccine trial after the study was paused worldwide in early September, but the US notably stayed on the sidelines — until now. Friday afternoon the pharma giant announced the all clear from US regulators. And on top of that, J&J announced Friday evening that it’s preparing to resume its own Phase III vaccine trial.

A top drug pro­gram at Bay­er clears a high bar for CKD — open­ing the door to an FDA pitch

Over the past 4 years, Bayer has been steering a major trial through a pivotal program to see if their drug finerenone could slow down the pace of chronic kidney disease in patients suffering from both CKD as well as Type 2 diabetes.

Today, their team jumped on a virtual meeting hosted by the American Society of Nephrology to offer a solid set of pivotal data to demonstrate that the drug can delay dialysis or a kidney replacement as well as cardio disease, while also adding some worrying signs of hyperkalemia among the patients taking the drug. And they’re hustling it straight to regulators in search of an approval for kidney disease and cardio patients — one of the toughest challenges in the book, as demonstrated by repeated past failures.

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Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

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CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics gets a snap­shot of off-the-shelf CAR-T suc­cess in B-cell ma­lig­nan­cies — marred by the death of a pa­tient

Just days after scientific founder Emmanuelle Charpentier shared the Nobel prize for her work on CRISPR/Cas9, CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP is showing off a snapshot of success in their early-stage study for an off-the-shelf CAR-T approach to CD19+ B cell malignancies — a snapshot marred by the death of a patient who had been given a high dose of the treatment.

Using their gene editing tech, researchers for CRISPR engineered cells from healthy donors into an attack vehicle aimed at cancer, something that has been achieved with great success using patients’ own cells — the autologous approach. But autologous CAR-T is hampered by the more complex vein-to-vein requirement that delays treatment, and now CRISPR Therapeutics along with other players like Allogene are determined to replace the pioneers with CAR-T 2.0.

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Ul­tragenyx in­jects $40M to grab Solid's mi­crody­s­trophin trans­gene — while side­step­ping the AAV9 vec­tor that stirred up safe­ty fears

Since before Ilan Ganot started Solid Bio to develop a gene therapy for kids like his son, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ultragenyx CEO Emil Kakkis has been watching and advising the former investment banker as he navigated the deep waters of drug development.

Just as Solid is getting back up on its feet after a yearlong clinical hold, Kakkis has decided to jump in for a formal alliance.

With a $40 million upfront, Ultragenyx is grabbing 14.45% of Solid’s shares $SLDB and the rights to its microdystrophin construct for use in combination with AAV8 vectors. Solid’s lead program, which utilizes AAV9, remains unaffected. The company also retains rights to other applications of its transgene.