Move aside, Humira. Merck's Keytruda will capture industry's top sales spot in 2024: report

Keytruda
EvaluatePharma predicts Merck's Keytruda will top industry sales rankings in 2024, with global revenue of $17 billion. (Merck)

AbbVie's Humira had a long run as the world's best-selling drug, but it can't last forever—and now we know which blockbuster will take its place.

EvaluatePharma analysts expect Merck's cancer star Keytruda to elbow the immunology drug aside within five years, at least when it comes to worldwide sales. The U.S. is a different story: Thanks to patent settlements that fend off biosimilars till 2023, Humira will keep its U.S. crown through 2024.

AbbVie's already facing Humira copies overseas, and that's a key reason why Keytruda will overtake the top spot in global sales by 2024. The Merck drug will climb to $17 billion that year to best Humira’s $12.4 billion, the industry experts at Evaluate predict in their latest World Preview report, which ranks the biggest-selling meds on the planet.

Keytruda and Humira will be followed by Eliquis, the anticoagulant sold by Pfizer and Bristol-Myers, and Bristol's own Opdivo. AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s blood cancer therapy Imbruvica rounds out the top five. 

Eliquis will reap $12 billion in global sales in 2024, the firm predicts, followed by $11.3 billion for Opdivo and $9.5 billion for Imbruvica. 

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Pfizer’s breast cancer drug Ibrance will capture the No. 6 spot with $9.1 billion, while Celgene’s Revlimid—a centerpiece of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion buyout—will generate $8 billion, the analysts predict. That’ll give BMS three drugs in the top seven. 

As for the three remaining top-10 slots, they're filled by J&J’s immunology med Stelara with $7.8 billion, Bayer and Regeneron’s Eylea with $7.3 billion, and Gilead’s newcomer HIV drug Biktarvy with $7 billion.

Biktarvy is the newest drug on the list, and it'll be the fastest growing among the top 10. The drug combo pulled in $1.18 billion last year, and Evaluate expects it to grow 34.4% on average over the next 5 years.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. alone, Humira will hang onto the top slot with $10.6 billion in sales—a full 85% of its worldwide haul. Numerous biosimilars are set for a U.S. launch in 2023, but EvaluatePharma believes the copycats will still leave Humira with megablockbuster sales the following year.

Behind the predictions are several trends driving sales boosts—or declines, as the case may be. After its initial approval in 2014, Keytruda has been racking up numerous new indications and moving into new lines of therapy, besting its rival Opdivo in the checkpoint inhibitor sales race.  

For Humira, its gradual slide comes at the end of its exclusive life. AbbVie has inked several agreements with biosimilar makers allowing European market entry last fall and U.S. entry in 2023. Luckily for that drugmaker, AbbVie has Imbruvica—and other blockbuster launches in 2019—it’s hoping they can fill the gap.

EvaluatePharma predicts Eliquis, Imbruvica, Ibrance and Biktarvy will post at least double-digit sales growth annually through 2024. Aside from Humira, the only other drug set to decline during the period is Revlimid, which the team expects to slip about 3.2% on average in the coming years.

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