1. Sagent Pharmaceuticals

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By Tracy Staton

2011 generic drug sales: $152 million
Growth rate 2011: 106%
Growth rate 2010: 153%

Sagent Pharmaceuticals ($SGNT) hasn't been around for long, but since its founding in 2006, the injectables specialist has been like a snowball rolling downhill: The bigger it gets, the faster it grows.

Thanks to $153 million in venture capital investment over the years, plus a $92 million IPO in 2011, Sagent has built up a stable of more than 33 products and a network of manufacturing partners and raw materials suppliers in 23 countries. One of its joint-ventures, a partnership with India-based Strides Arcolab, won its 12th FDA approval last fall, for its injectable form of the antibiotic clindamycin.

But all that infrastructure doesn't help much if products don't sell. Sagent's do. The company has more than doubled in size each of the past two years. That's partly because of some savvy choices: Sagent has differentiated its products with "PreventIV" labels and packaging that are color-coded and labeled to help reduce medical errors. And it has zeroed in on niche markets where drugs are running short.

Consider its PreventIV heparin products, which won a 2011 Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Award. The blood thinner ran short a few years ago after contaminated vials triggered severe allergic reactions and deaths. Around the same time, the actor Dennis Quaid and his wife sued over a heparin overdose administered to their twin infants, blaming, among other things, the labeling on drug vials.

And then there's vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant. Like dozens of other generic injectable drugs, it was on the FDA's list of drug shortages last year, when Sagent launched its version. At the time, CEO Jeffrey Yordon said the company had 7 drugs "fairly far along" that could address persistent shortage problems. "We have some products waiting for approval for drugs desperately needed," Yordon said. "We found some good companies in Western Europe that can make these products."

Among them were cancer drugs, which fewer and fewer drugmakers manufacture because of thin margins. Oncology treatments represent a growing share of Sagent's sales, with 22% of the total in 2011. At year's end, Sagent had 36 products awaiting FDA approval; 5 of them were cancer drugs.