AbbVie needs more than its hep C nod to backfill Humira's looming patent loss

With Friday's approval of all-oral hep C regimen Viekira Pak, AbbVie's ($ABBV) got a future blockbuster on its hands. And it couldn't have arrived soon enough.

With copycat drugmakers gearing up to take down a couple of the Illinois company's top moneymakers, AbbVie will welcome the more than $3 billion analysts expect for the new drug. Viekira will bolster a product lineup set to take a hit when testosterone product AndroGel loses some patent protection early next year and--more importantly--whopper lead product Humira faces biosimilar competition, which has already arrived in India with a recent launch from Zydus Cadila.

Of course, Viekira Pak can't make up for Humira's globe-leading top-line numbers on its own. Last year, the behemoth raked in $10.66 billion for the Abbott ($ABT) spinoff, generating about 57% of the company's overall sales. That haul has only grown in 2014, with the drug posting double-digit sales leaps in each of the year's first three quarters.

And Viekira will have to contend with trailblazer Harvoni from Gilead ($GILD), whose $10 billion peak sales estimates make Viekira projections look paltry. While both meds have charted stellar efficacy across trials, Gilead has the convenience factor on its side: Its cocktail involves just one pill, while AbbVie's regimen will require at least four pills, plus the older drug ribavirin. A newly announced exclusive deal with Express Scripts ($ESRX) will give it an edge with that pharmacy benefits manager's patients, but at a "significantly" discounted price.

AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez

That in mind, CEO Richard Gonzalez said in October that the company would keep scouting deals--although none as big as the $55 billion Shire ($SHPG) merger his company nixed over the summer. While industry-watchers had lauded the deal as a way for AbbVie to diversify away from Humira, Gonzalez has tried to reassure investors that AbbVie doesn't need it.

"We're in an even stronger position today than before we announced the Shire deal," he said on a conference call after canceling the deal on tax-rule changes. Gonzalez went on to note that AbbVie would "continue to look for those opportunities that strategically fit and give us a strong financial return."

But in the meantime, AbbVie may wind up with a suitor of its own. The company ranks high on a list of logical choices for deal-hungry Pfizer ($PFE), which needs to make a move to get sales growing and boost its stock-price upside, Bloomberg notes. AbbVie's shares trade at a cheaper valuation than the majority of other drugmakers Pfizer has reportedly been eying, and Humira could beef up an established products unit the drug giant may eventually divest.

- read about the FDA approval in FierceBiotech
- check out the Express Scripts deal in FiercePharma
- get more from Bloomberg

Special Reports: The 10 best-selling drugs of 2013 - Humira | The top 10 patent losses of 2015 - Androgel | Top 15 highest-paid biopharma CEOs of 2013 - Richard Gonzalez, AbbVie