For any drugmaker, taking a med to the billion-dollar sales mark—also known as a blockbuster—is a massive achievement in its own right. But for the pharmaceutical industry's bestselling drugs, some of which are blockbusters many times over, the bar is set much higher.
Thanks to our friends at Evaluate Pharma, we have assembled a list of the top 20 drugs by global sales in 2019, a who's who of pharma's biggest sales drivers.
Things change quickly in pharma, but 2019 was much the same as past years in one notable way: In terms of sales, it's AbbVie's megablockbuster Humira and everyone else. But with Humira biosimilar challengers hitting abroad for the first time in 2019—and U.S. copycats right around the corner in 2023—other top sellers are eyeing their march to the top.
In the second tier below Humira's $19.74 billion in sales are a suite of superstar oncology meds, with five of the top 10 bestselling drugs approved to treat cancer. Chief among those is Merck & Co.'s fast-growing Keytruda, which has gobbled up new patients on its way to sales supremacy.
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Keytruda's bustling pipeline is so lucrative, in fact, that Evaluate has pegged the I-O med's sales in 2026 at $25 billion—roughly in line with Wall Street consensus and significantly higher than Humira's peak.
The other story of our list is the loss of patent protection, a fate that eventually dooms every bestseller. Of our top 20 drugs, six therapies faced generic or biosim challengers for the first time in 2019 or previously saw copycats hit the market.
No single drugmaker will be as affected by that challenge than Roche, which saw its three bestselling oncology meds—Avastin, Herceptin and Rituxan—face U.S. copycats in 2019.
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But it's not all Humira and oncology: Drugs from Gilead, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb and others round out our list, and their roads to blockbuster success have all been unique.