Cancer drugs rising to top of sales pyramid

Emerging markets is just one promised land for Big Pharma these days. The other one? Cancer drugs. Because it can be a terminal illness, patients want their oncology meds at any cost, even if the life-extension payoff is relatively small. Just witness the emotional debates in the U.K. each time the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence deems a cancer drug not cost-effective enough to make the NHS formulary.

People are willing to spend thousands upon thousands (preferably of someone else's money, namely Medicare or another government program, or a private insurance company). So it's no wonder that drugmakers are in something of a gold rush into cancer meds. The New York Times takes an in-depth look at that rush, and while the story is primarily focused on drug development, it also delivers some choice stats on existing oncology meds.

For instance, in 1998, only 12 cancer drugs made the list of the top 200 medicines by global sales. Taxol was the only one with sales of at least $1 billion. But by 2008, 23 oncology treatments made the top 200, with three in the top 10 and 20 with $1 billion or more in sales. Overall, cancer meds have been the biggest category in terms of sales since 2006 globally and in the U.S. since 2008, the NYT reports. Will the trend continue? Drugmakers certainly hope so.

- read the NYT piece