1. Humira

The fortunes of AbbVie have been carried for more than a decade by the world's top-selling drug, Humira. (AbbVie)



Company: AbbVie

2020 sales: $20.39 billion

Diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, hidradenitis suppurativa, ulcerative colitis, plaque psoriasis

How did the coronavirus pandemic affect biopharma sales in 2020? Look no further than the world’s top-selling drug. After a long-awaited drop in sales of 3.9% in 2019, Humira rebounded with a 3.5% increase in 2020.

Humira’s fall in 2019 was expected, as it was the first year the drug faced competition from biosimilars in Europe. As a result, international sales fell by 31%. But this year, Humira withstood the international erosion and remained a growing force in the United States, which accounted for $16.1 billion of its sales, as compared to $14.9 in 2019.

Other tried-and-true drugs performed similarly in 2020, as patients were reluctant to visit doctors and were less likely to switch to newer treatments during the pandemic. Sales of Humira actually increased in each quarter of 2020, from $4.7 billion in the first quarter to $5.15 billion in the fourth.

Long before AbbVie was created in 2013, Abbott set up Humira for mega-blockbuster status, winning approvals for rheumatoid arthritis in 2002, psoriatic arthritis in 2005, and Crohn’s disease in 2007. That helped guarantee the long-term success of Humira, as did steady price increases and an aggressive approach to fending off patent challenges.  

RELATED: AbbVie pegs growth to booming Skyrizi, Rinvoq in post-merger future. But neurology could be a ‘sleeper’ 

Humira also should remain dominant in immunology for the next few years. Its closest rival is Johnson & Johnson’s Stelara, which rang up sales of $7.71 billion last year. 

But the clock is ticking on Humira’s long run. With its patent expiring in 2023, biosimilar competition in the U.S. is on the way.

AbbVie is doing what it can to prepare, grooming plaque psoriasis drug Skyrizi and rheumatoid arthritis treatment Rinvoq as replacements. The company has said the duo could rake in a combined $15 billion by 2025.

RELATED: AbbVie drops Humira TV spend; Sanofi and Regeneron, Novo Nordisk step up on March pharma list

The shift was evident in March's ad spending figures, as Humira dropped out of the top spot for the first time in several years after AbbVie steered ad money to Skyrizi and Rinvoq. Replacing Humira at the top spot is one of its hot immunology pursuers, Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent, which saw a 70% increase in sales to $4 million in 2020.

Another move that could soften the blow of Humira’s inevitable fade is AbbVie's acquisition of Allergan, which brought in blockbuster Botox and antipsychotic Vraylar.  

Humira became the world’s top-selling drug in 2012 and has remained No. 1 ever since. If the drug claims the top spot in 2021, Humira will be on its way to overtaking Lipitor as the world’s all-time best-selling drug.

1. Humira