17. Keytruda

Merck & Co.
Immuno-oncology therapy
2015 sales: $605 million
2020 projection: $4.50 billion

Merck & Co. ($MRK) and Keytruda are on the leading edge of an immunotherapy wave that's expected to bring in a boatload of new cancer treatments. It's not there alone, however, and it's on its way toward even more competition.

The U.S.-based company rolled out Keytruda for advanced melanoma in September 2014, about three months ahead of Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) rival PD-1 therapy Opdivo, and the two drugs have been racing for new indications ever since. But though the two drugs may have begun neck-and-neck, Keytruda is expected to lag behind the BMS med in the long term, sales-wise.

Just witness the analyst projections in this ranking, which put Opdivo in third place, but Keytruda in 17th. Keytruda's 2020 sales projection of almost $5 billion isn't shabby at all, of course, surpassed as it is by Opdivo's $8 billion. But Merck isn't conceding first place just yet.

As of February 2016, Keytruda was approved for advanced melanoma--patients previously treated or not--as well as non-small cell lung cancer in patients whose tumors express PD-L1. And Merck had the right to brag that, in one advanced melanoma trial, KEYNOTE-003, Keytruda patients lived longer than those taking Bristol-Myers' Yervoy.

Meanwhile, Merck is studying Keytruda for a variety of other uses, including multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and breast cancer. The company has 160-plus Keytruda trials going, covering more than 30 different tumor types. About half of those trials are testing Keytruda in combination with other cancer meds, including other immunotherapies.

Soon, the PD-1/PD-L1 immunotherapy market won't be a two-drug race, however. Roche's atezolizumab is expected to go to the FDA for approval this year, and more rivals are coming down the pike, including avelumab from Pfizer ($PFE) and Merck KGaA, which won the FDA's "breakthrough" designation in November 2015. -- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)

For more:
Merck treads water in Q4 as Keytruda helps offset Remicade suffering
Merck's Keytruda lines up its survival data for stepped-up battle with BMS' Opdivo
Cancer-free President Carter notes Keytruda treatment: Will the celebrity effect kick in?
BMS' Opdivo gets a jump on Keytruda with another early FDA approval
Don't count Merck's Keytruda out in lung cancer fight with BMS' Opdivo
Roche's atezo lines up PD-L1 data for forthcoming battle with Keytruda, Opdivo
The PD-1 wave? Report says it's a $33B tsunami, with BMS surfing for first place

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17. Keytruda