Alexion's Soliris to Merck's Januvia, top 20 generate huge growth

R&D failures, patent problems, and buyout fights have been dominating Big Pharma news in recent weeks. However, the first half of the year has seen sales results for some drugs that are nothing short of amazing, demonstrating how high returns can be when a drug makes a competitive leap. 

In its most recent parsing of sales data, FirstWord Pharma shows that the top 20 drugs by sales growth have seen returns ranging from 167% for Alexion Pharmaceutical's ($ALXN) orphan drug Soliris, to three drugs with growth exceeding 615%. Three major fields dominate the growth scene: oncology with 6, diabetes with four, and immunology and inflammation with two. And one, Vertex's ($VRTX) hep C drug Incivek, had the fastest ever first-year launch, with a 628% improvement in the first 6 months of 2012.

The list has all the big names, old and new, Lantus from Sanofi ($SNY), and Humira from Abbott ($ABT), Regeneron's ($REGN) Eylea, and Pfizer's ($PFE) Lyrica. 

Despite these jet-fast growths and massive returns, drugs are not immune to challenges in a swiftly changing industry; today's hot product could be tomorrow's biggest failure due to competitors or safety concerns. Still, some are getting entrenched, FirstWord reports, and will take something significant to unseat them soon.

Among those in the entrenched category the report places Roche's ($RHHBY) Herceptin and Rituxan, which came up with net growth of $239 million and $219 million, respectively. But the biggest growth was Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Zytiga which netted $378 million in 2012 H1 compared to the year ago half.

In the diabetes category, previosly highlighted by AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMS) Amylin buyout, it is Merck's ($MRK) Januvia and Janumet drugs that get the attention. They topped the list with 635% growth and combined net sales growth of $635 million. In the anti-TNF biologics category that now dominates the immunology and inflammation market, Abbott's ($ABT) Humira and Pfizer and Amgen's ($AMGN) Enbrel lead the way. Competition from biosimilars is hazardous here.

The lesson to be learned from all of this? That companies have to put big bucks into R&D to come up with "incrementally effective" drugs to get high growth, not just me-too drugs.

- read the FirstWord Pharma report