Cancer drugs from J&J, Roche, Celgene and more rival last big oncology wave

In the world of cancer drugs, calling a new entry "the next Avastin" or "the next Gleevec" is like picking out the next Brad Pitt or the next Beyoncé. Those two treatments were among a crop of future blockbusters launched as the new millennium kicked into gear, and they're top sellers today.

But that's just what the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics is doing in its latest report on the pharma business. After digging into the oncology drug market, IMS Health found that a group of cancer treatments launched over the past three years "are following the same trajectory" as Roche's ($RHHBY) Avastin, Novartis' ($NVS) Gleevec, Bayer's Nexavar, and Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Erbitux--at least so far.

After a period of less-than-impressive growth from new launches from 2005 to 2009, the new wave of cancer meds is formidable. The most impressive growth curve belongs to Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) prostate cancer treatment Zytiga, which hit the ground running and then revved up with a new first-line indication. But Bayer's radiotherapy Xofigo is headed straight up. And Roche's breast cancer therapy Perjeta, which quickly nabbed an FDA approval for use before surgery, has seen a big surge since that win. 

Other strong performers out of the gate include Roche's breakthrough armed-antibody treatment Kadcyla, Celgene's ($CELG) latest multiple myeloma drug Pomalyst, and Amgen's ($AMGN) rival multiple myeloma therapy Kyprolis, which it acquired with Onyx Pharmaceuticals. Roche's Zelboraf, for melanoma, is no slouch either, though its sales have leveled off, likely because of new launches in that field. Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy, which beat Zelboraf to market, has been a strong performer, too.

A few other new entries haven't been as fortunate. The new chronic myeloid leukemia treatment Iclusig, from Ariad Pharmaceuticals ($ARIA), was gaining ground until sales were suspended because of blood clot risks; the drug since has gone back on sale in a limited market. Sanofi's ($SNY) colon cancer drug Zaltrap and Bayer's drug for the same disease, Stivarga, started out strong, but that market is competitive, IMS Health notes, which "has perhaps hampered their uptake."

Special Reports: Top 15 drug launch superstars - Zytiga - Kadcyla - Kyprolis - Yervoy

Read more on