Roche unchallenged at top of cancer sellers, but Celgene could fight Novartis for No. 2

Roche ($RHHBY) has been at the top of the heap in oncology sales for years--and it's no wonder, what with its top-selling triumvirate, Herceptin, Rituxan and Avastin. The Swiss drugmaker racked up more than $25 billion in cancer last year, and its closest challenger, Novartis ($NVS), managed less than half of that.

But times are a-changing. While Roche won't lose its pole position anytime soon--not with up-and-comers Perjeta and Gazyva on the scene, and a PD-L1 med on its way--its cancer portfolio grew by just 2% in 2014, compared with double-digit increases at Celgene ($CELG), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), which captured 3rd, 4th and 5th place overall. Novartis--with a bigger baseline to start with--saw its cancer meds grow by 8% for the year to $10.2 billion.

And with Novartis taking on GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) oncology portfolio, new immuno-oncology products hitting the scene, and other hot meds on the prowl, rival drugmakers are gaining.

Novartis obviously will add significantly to its total for 2015, with GSK's meds now the fold. Those drugs brought in some $1.8 billion in 2014, which would have boosted Novartis past $12 billion last year. If it can keep Tasigna and Afinitor growing as they have been--each delivered increases of at least 20% last year--that's another big chunk.

Looking farther ahead, the battle for second place could heat up. Estimates for 2020 sales put Celgene's Revlimid at $10.1 billion all by itself, and the company's Abraxane is expected to bring in more than $2 billion. It also has Pomalyst, a new multiple myeloma med, to help out, with $2.4 billion in its 2020 forecast. In fact, CEO Bob Hugin says his company can hit $20 billion in sales by then, though some of that expected growth is pegged on an autoimmune disease candidate.

And then there's immuno-oncology, which looks ready to take cancer treatment by storm. How it will all shake out is unclear at this point--Bristol-Myers' Opdivo data from ASCO put its long-term, $6 billion forecast in question, for instance--but those meds could rearrange the cancer ranks significantly.

- see the PMLiVE piece

Special Report: The top 10 best-selling cancer drugs of 2013

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