15. Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Myers Squibb's performance in 2017 relied on two megablockbusters: the anticoagulant Eliquis and the checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo. (BMS)

Bristol-Myers Squibb 
2017 revenue: $20.77 billion 
2016 revenue: $19.43 billion 
Headquarters: New York, New York

You could almost say that Bristol-Myers Squibb’s story is all about immuno-oncology, what with the high-profile cancer-fighter Opdivo grabbing most of its 2017 headlines. 

But a come-from-behind anticoagulant, Eliquis, is pulling almost-equal weight these days, and together they pushed the company to a 7% revenue rise in 2017. 

Eliquis, the outcome of a partnership with Pfizer, grew 46% for the year, a leap 15 percentage points higher than Opdivo’s. That’s despite its third-to-market status, behind Boehringer Ingelheim’s Pradaxa and Johnson & Johnson and Bayer’s Xarelto, and despite an early launch that was slower than expected. The drug has been grabbing market share from Xarelto, making it the leading anticoagulant in its class, and taking it to $4.87 billion for the year. 

And with accelerating new-to-brand gains in Europe, plus almost 50% share of total scripts in its class, Elquis has a “tremendous opportunity to continue to grow,” CEO Giovanni Caforio said in announcing the company’s fourth-quarter and 2017 results. 

Opdivo’s $4.95 billion, meanwhile, made the PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor the company’s best-selling drug. And though it lost its lead in lung cancer awhile back—a development that helped Merck & Co.’s rival drug Keytruda rack up a 172% increase to $3.8 billion last year—it added a series of new indications over the year and reported new data that could well lead to more. 

RELATED: After 5 years, Eliquis' growth ceiling is nowhere in sight: Bristol-Myers CEO

Among those new studies? A victory in renal cancer for patients with poor prognoses, where Opdivo and Yervoy managed to extend patients’ lives; that new use won approval in April of this year. That trial is among a laundry list of tests for the duo, where success could benefit not only Opdivo but also Yervoy. And a boost for the latter would be a turnaround; the drug’s growth has slowed, mostly because Opdivo is cannibalizing its market. 

The year was also active on the deal side, with more than 45 transactions, including licensing new drug candidates and technologies and forging late-stage clinical collaborations. Three deals CFO Charlie Bancroft highlighted in January were its buyout of IFM Theraepeutics, which brought in two preclinical programs focused on enhancing a patients’ immune response to fight cancer; a partnership with the sequencing company Foundation Medicine to identify biomarkers that can more easily show how patients respond to immunotherapy; and a drug-delivery deal with Halozyme that could lead to subcutaneous formulas of IO drugs, using Halozyme’s Enhanze technology. 

The company’s shares ended the year about flat, after a decline in the first half—when many other drugmakers posted gains—but a recovery in the second half. 

RELATED: Big Pharma share prices jumped in the first half, except for BMS

Also marking 2017 were the rumors that just won’t die: Pfizer could buy Bristol-Myers. Pfizer has offered up a nondenial denial—no, we’re not interested, but could, maybe, possibly be, depending on how key I-O data come in. Bristol has itself said it’s not interested. And whatever the talk, 2017 didn’t bring that megadeal that everyone in biopharma loves to talk about. 

So far in 2018, the company has rolled out some lung cancer data for the Opdivo-Yervoy combo that Bristol-Myers plans to use to seek a new indication in first-line lung cancer, the very indication that it lost out on for Opdivo as monotherapy with a trial miss in late 2015.

Though the study, Checkmate-227, hasn’t reached the overall survival threshold yet, the pair did beat its targets for staving off cancer growth or death in patients across the PD-1 spectrum, but identified with high tumor mutation burdens, a biomarker BMS would like oncologists to adopt widely. 

Overall in 2017, the company racked up 31 regulatory submissions and approvals, meeting its goal for that metric, while Opdivo won four new indications. 

Financially, Bristol-Myers is looking for low- to mid-single digit growth in sales, with slight increases in spending on SG&A and R&D. For earnings per share, it’s predicting $3.00 to $3.15 on a GAAP basis. 

15. Bristol-Myers Squibb