Top 10 Best-selling Cancer Drugs

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Oncology drugs are hot. Scratch beneath the surface of most major drugmakers, and you'll find a host of them in various stages of development, as the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting will attest. The usual reasons for growing drug demand apply: Rising healthcare spending in countries such as China; an expanding middle class better able to access healthcare in India and other emerging markets; and aging populations in big drug markets like the U.S. and Japan.

But cancer drugs have their own unique drivers. They treat deadly, frightening diseases, so patients demand them, even at nosebleed prices. Penny-pinching gatekeepers like the U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence are more amenable to new drugs for patients with terminal illness, if not at pharma's asking price.

Many of the newer cancer drugs, recently approved and in development, are aimed at cancers with specific genetic variations, so the drugs can be targeted to patients who are most likely to benefit--and that likely benefit can command premium prices. Finally, biologic treatments for cancer don't face generic competition on schedule as traditional drugs do, so even older drugs such as Herceptin don't have to contend with low-cost knockoffs. U.S. provisions for biosimilar versions guarantee that will change--but it hasn't changed yet.

In fact, the three top-selling cancer drugs on our list--Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin--were approved in 1997, 2004, and 1998, respectively. So, they've been long-term earners for their developer, Genentech, now Roche's ($RHHBY) U.S. unit. The newest drug on the list is Tarceva, another Genentech product, which won FDA approval in November 2004.

So, let's get down to the figures: These 10 treatments brought in U.S. sales last year ranging from $564 million to $3 billion, according to IMS Health numbers. Our Nesa Nourmohammadi gathered the data.

You'll get the individual nitty-gritty in the report. It should be noted that the list of FDA approvals for each drug is not intended to represent the very precise indications on agency-approved labels.

 --Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)