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Cancer therapies win big in Q3 sales; top-selling drugs brace for copycat rivals

Anticancer agents continued to boost revenues in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector in the third quarter, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of select large drugmakers' sales.

AbbVie Inc.'s Humira remained the top-selling drug overall, bringing in $5.14 billion, up 4.1% compared with the same quarter in 2019. However, the immunologic drug's international sales declined by 8% to $951 million due to competition from copycat medicines known as biosimilars.

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Merck's Keytruda was the second-best selling drug in the third quarter, behind AbbVie's Humira.
Source: Merck & Co.

The North Chicago, Ill.-based pharmaceutical giant expects a similar decline in the U.S. when biosimilars enter the market in 2023. AbbVie is now banking on immunologic drugs Skyrizi and Rinvoq, both obtained following the $63 billion acquisition of Allergan PLC, to compensate for impending Humira losses.

Trailing Humira is Merck & Co. Inc.'s blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda, which rose 21% year over year to $3.72 billion. Uptake of Keytruda across all key tumor types remained strong in the U.S., and the drug continues to be the leader in lung cancer by a widening margin, Merck executive vice president of global services and CFO Robert Davis said during an October earnings call.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Revlimid garnered $3.03 billion in sales. The New York-based company took ownership of the blockbuster cancer drug from Celgene Corp., which was acquired for $95 billion in late 2019. Just like Humira, the market share for Revlimid is expected to shrink, with patents set to expire and generic competitors preparing to launch in the coming years.

Combined sales of Eliquis from co-developers Bristol-Myers and Pfizer Inc. reached $3.21 billion. Bristol-Myers said in a Nov. 5 earnings call that the blood thinner has significant growth potential, as does the cancer drug Opdivo, which raked in $1.78 billion in revenue during the third quarter, down by 2% from the year prior.

READ MORE: AbbVie, Lilly among leaders in next-generation blood cancer drugs at ASH meeting

Eliquis remains the number one anticoagulant in key international markets including Germany, France and the U.K., while Opdivo in combination with Yervoy has recently been approved as a first-line treatment for lung cancer.

Johnson & Johnson's psoriasis drug Stelara enjoyed the fifth-highest sales overall with $1.95 billion in the quarter, up by 14.7% year over year. The drug received expanded approval in the U.S. in July to treat patients ages 6 to 11 with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. A rival drug, Cosentyx from Novartis AG, achieved sales of $1.01 billion, an 8% rise from the third quarter of 2019.

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Amgen Inc.'s immunology drug Enbrel made $1.33 billion, down 3% year over year; and AstraZeneca PLC's cancer drug Tagrisso collected $1.16 billion, up 29.6%.

Diabetes drugs and vaccines were some of the top selling franchises for drugmakers in the third quarter, earning $5.62 billion and $4.54 billion, respectively. Pfizer's Prevnar 13 pneumococcal vaccine led the category with $1.53 billion in revenue even with a 4.3% decline year over year. Sanofi's influenza vaccines, including Vaxigrip and Fluzone, booked a total of $1.25 billion in sales, a 44.9% gain year over year.

Eli Lilly and Co.'s Trulicity, the top diabetes medicine on the list with sales of $1.11 billion, saw a 9.4% increase in revenue year over year. Novo Nordisk A/S's Ozempic sales soared 74% from the same period last year with $850 million in revenue, indicating a gradual recovery after disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Antiretrovirals also offered significant revenue contributions. Gilead Sciences Inc.'s Biktarvy led the pack with sales of $1.89 billion, a 50.2% rise year over year. GlaxoSmithKline PLC's Triumeq also made the list with $750 million in sales, a 11.4% drop from the same quarter last year.

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Market outlook on cancer therapies

The global market for immune-oncology drugs, which include immune checkpoint inhibitors and cancer vaccines, is expected to decline to $57.34 billion in 2020 from $59.64 billion in 2019, according to two December reports from The Business Research Company. Meanwhile, the global market for cancer monoclonal antibodies is likely to decrease to $45.40 billion in 2020 from $48.36 billion in 2019. The reports attribute the decline to the ongoing pandemic, which has disrupted the pharmaceutical supply chain. Both markets are anticipated to recover in 2023 to $80.11 billion for immune-oncology drugs and $61.15 for cancer monoclonal antibodies.

Demand for anticancer agents is expected to rise in the next few years as cases of cancer increase worldwide. About 1.7 million new cases and roughly 600,000 cancer deaths were recorded in the U.S. in 2019, based on data from the American Cancer Society. Even with increasing demand, the market's growth is likely to face a setback due to the high cost of cancer therapies. On average, immunotherapy costs more than $100,000 annually per patient. The American Journal of Managed Care has reported that the cost of cancer monoclonal antibodies is about $100,000 higher than monoclonal antibodies for other diseases.