Can 2017's top launches hit blockbuster goals? Roche, AstraZeneca, Novo sure hope so

Some recent drug launches have rocketed past expectations, while others have struggled to hit estimates. Image: Tony Gray, courtesy of NASA.

When it comes to drug launches, who doesn’t love to gaze into a crystal ball? Here at FiercePharmaMarketing, we featured some of those numbers in a special report this February.

But with so many anticipated rollouts in 2017, launch prognostications are getting more attention than ever. Clarivate Analytics puts out a “Drugs to Watch” report annually, and highlights some different drugs—and puts forth different forecasts—from those we published earlier.

The grand total for these nine meds? By 2021, they're expected to bring in $16 billion, shared among Big Pharma and a few top biotechs.

Some of the usual suspects are here: Roche’s Ocrevus; Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent; AstraZeneca’s durvalumab; Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide; Tesaro’s niraparib, just approved as Zejula; Novartis’ LEE011, a.k.a. ribociclib, approved last month under the Kisqali brand name; and Kite Pharma’s KTE-C19, which could be the first-ever CAR-T therapy for cancer.

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Four of those meds scored the top four spots on Clarivate’s launch list, just as they did on Evaluate Pharma’s, which provided the numbers for our special report. Ranked by 2021 sales estimates in Clarivate’s version Ocrevus—the first anti-CD20 antibody and first multiple sclerosis drug approved for patients with progressive disease, the most difficult-to-treat type— came in first with a $3.33 billion sales estimate.

Dupixent, approved last month for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis (eczema), came in second with $2.8 billion. Evaluate estimated $4.1 billion in 2022 sales for both new therapies.

AstraZeneca’s durvalumab, a PD-L1 inhibitor came in third at $2.05 billion, far below the estimates for future competitors Keytruda, Opdivo and Tecentriq, from Merck & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche, respectively.

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Meanwhile, Novo’s semaglutide, a long-acting GLP-1 drug and successor to its blockbuster Victoza, rated fourth place, with $1.93 billion sales estimates. It’s one of Novo’s key launches in the near term, and will compete with a couple of longer-acting GLP-1s 

Clarivate also plucked Eli Lilly & Co.’s Olumiant (baricitinib), a JAK-inhibiting rheumatoid arthritis treatment that won European approval in February and is awaiting an FDA nod after a delay in January. Developed by Lilly and Incyte, the med is expected to bring in $1.28 billion by 2021, the firm says, putting it in fifth place among 2017 launches.

Also making the grade for Clarivate was avelumab, the Pfizer and Merck KGaA immuno-therapy that won FDA approval in March as Bavencio, to treat Merkel cell carcinoma. Clarivate puts Bavencio’s 2021 sales at $1.23 billion, seventh place. It didn’t make Evaluate’s 2022 sales threshold.

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Novartis’ Kisqali, a much anticipated breast cancer med in the CDK4/CDK6 field, carries a $1.277 billion estimate for 2021—compared with Evaluate’s $1.6 billion in 2022. It’ll compete with Pfizer’s fast-growing Ibrance. That number earned it sixth place.

Meanwhile, Zejula, a.k.a. niraparib, is expected to snag $1.08 billion by 2021, while KTE-C19 carries a $917.5 million estimate. These two meds round out the list in eighth and ninth; Zejula faces immediate competition with AstraZeneca’s Lynparza, while Kite is racing with Novartis for the first-to-market CAR-T crown.

With all this said, lauches can surprise even the most adept forecasters. As we’ve seen with big debuts in recent years—Novartis’ heart failure drug Entresto, PCSK9 cholesterol meds from Amgen, Sanofi and Regeneron, to name a few—payer reluctance can hamper sales considerably. We’ll check back in with these in 2021.