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Revealed: analysts predict seven highest-earning pharma blockbusters

Published on 04/02/16 at 08:18am
Seven drugs are predicted to earn annual sales of more than $1 billion a year by 2020

Seven new drugs currently in development will enter the market this year – and earn sales of more than $1 billion a year by 2020, analysts predict.

According to a new report by researchers from Thomson Reuters, there are a total of seven new drugs currently in the new drug development pipeline that should enter the market this year and surpass $1 billion in annual sales by 2020. Two of these are projected to top $2 billion in annual sales.

These projections are detailed in the annual Drugs to Watch 2016 report, which mines pharmaceutical industry data to forecast the new therapeutics with the largest marketplace potential.

The two new drugs projected to exceed $2 billion in annual sales are a chronic liver disease treatment from Intercept Pharmaceuticals and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma with the chemical name obeticholic acid (OCA), and a fixed-dose combination HIV treatment from Gilead Sciences and Japan Tobacco which combines the chemicals emtricitabine, marketed as Emtriva, and tenofovir alafenamide (TAF). MSD, Acadia Pharmaceuticals and Actelion also feature on the list (see below).

Gilead’s drug reflect a key pharma trend in 2016; a focus on developing new orphan treatments for rare diseases. Both Intercept/Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, and AbbVie and Roche, are aiming to enter the orphan market in 2016, with the latter bringing their candidate potential blockbuster drug venetoclax to market.

In 2015, the FDA approved more orphan drugs for rare diseases than any previous year: 21 (47%) of the novel drugs approved by the FDA in 2015 were classified as orphan drugs, compared with 17 (41%) in 2014, 9 (33%) in 2013, 13 (33%) in 2012 and 11 (37%) in 2011.

The report says that the shift “has been stimulated by a range of commercial drivers, including reduced timelines for clinical development and a higher probability of approval, a longer period of marketing exclusivity, tax credits and user fee waivers, premium pricing, faster uptake and lower marketing costs.” It continues: “It is anticipated that such incentives will continue to promote the shift toward a drug development business model that incorporates orphan diseases.”

The report concludes that the year ahead will be a very interesting and challenging one for the pharmaceutical industry.

“Trends that look set to continue include an increasing interest in rare diseases and the development of FDCs as companies realise the revenue potential of both areas… However, the ongoing dilemma of how to recoup development costs with the need for affordable new therapeutics will continue to impact the pharmaceutical industry, raising the possibility of new pricing models and more aggressive pricing strategies in 2016.”

While Richard Harrison, chief scientific officer for intellectual property and science at Thomson Reuters, says: “The relationship between drug prices and the costs of development is expected to be a major focal point for drug companies, investors, regulators and politicians this year. With the rise of global healthcare costs, the need to demonstrate meaningful impact will be greater than ever for pharmaceutical companies. These seven drugs are likely to figure prominently in those discussions.”

Lilian Anekwe

Seven potential blockbusters, ranked by highest sales forecasts
(Source: Thomson Reuters)

(by highest sales forecasts for 2020)



Pharmaceutical Company

2020   Forecast Sales
(US$ billions)


Obeticholic acid

Chronic liver diseases, primarily primary biliary cirrhosis

Intercept Pharmaceuticals and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma



Emtricitabine + tenofovir alafenamide (F/TAF)

HIV-1 infection

Gilead Sciences and Japan Tobacco



Tenofovir alafenamide + emtricitabine + rilpivirine (R/F/TAF)

HIV-1 infection

Gilead Sciences and Janssen R&D



MK-5172A (grazoprevir + elbasvir)

HCV infection

(Hepatitis C)

Merck & Co




Chronic lymphocytic leukemia




Nuplazid (pimavanserin)

Parkinson's disease psychosis 

ACADIA Pharmaceuticals



Uptravi (selexipag)

Pulmonary arterial hypertension

Nippon Shinyaku Co and Actelion


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