Company: Eli Lilly
2011 sales: $1.04 billion
Developer: Eli Lilly, based on Princeton research
FDA approvals: Malignant pleural mesothelioma, 2004; non-small cell lung cancer, 2008; NSCLC maintenance therapy, 2009
When it was approved in 2004, Alimta was the first drug specifically targeting mesothelioma, a malignant disease associated with asbestos exposure. That discovery was hailed in the mesothelioma community, but for an ambitious cancer drugmaker, the comparatively rare disease wasn't enough. Lung cancer, on the other hand, is the third-most prevalent cancer in the U.S., after prostate cancer and breast cancer. So, Alimta's approval for that use in 2008 opened up a vast new market. Since then, the drug's sales have continued to grow--2011's $1.04 billion was a 5% improvement over the $991 million recorded in 2010--but Lilly ($LLY) wants more.
The company has been testing Alimta in combination with a variety of other cancer therapies and in a variety of other cancers. Some of those studies haven't panned out; for instance, an anticipated use in head and neck cancer faltered after Alimta failed a Phase III trial in late 2010. But others have borne fruit. In 2009, the drug won FDA approval as maintenance therapy for certain types of lung cancer.
The efforts continue. Alimta research will be unveiled at the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting next month, including new treatment permutations in NSCLC. Overall survival data from its Paramount study will also be released. Whatever Alimta's ultimate market, it's not only treating patients, but educating future scientists: A chemistry building on Princeton's campus was entirely financed by Alimta royalty payments.