Abbvie to become the biggest of pharmas in 2028

New extended consensus forecasts from Evaluate Pharma show Roche edged out of first place by Abbvie as new blood replaces Humira.

Despite facing one of the steepest patent cliffs in the industry’s history Abbvie is expected to rise up the rankings ahead of Roche to become the biggest pharma company by prescription sales in 2028, according to extended consensus forecasts from Evaluate Pharma.

Abbvie’s gain contrasts with the slide down the rankings by Pfizer, Novartis and Bristol Myers Squibb, the last of which faces significant patent erosion of its own. Three of Bristol's blockbusters – Revlimid, Eliquis and Opdivo – could see cheaper copycats arrive over the next six years.

Abbvie’s tail wags the dog

While Abbvie will no longer enjoy $20bn-plus sales a year from Humira after 2023, a fairly long tail of demand is expected for the anti-TNF rheumatoid arthritis drug. Those sales, plus growing contributions from the Jak inhibitor Rinvoq, psoriasis product Skyrizi and cancer drug Venclexta, are enough to create a very narrow lead over second-place rival Roche.

These numbers are of course based on estimates made by sellside analysts and collated by Evaluate Pharma. In Abbvie's case, maintaining this forecast advantage will depend on the company's success in rolling out Rinvoq and Skyrizi in new indications. 

Changing of the guard: the world's biggest drug makers in 2028
Company 2028e Rx sales ($bn) 2021-28 rank change
Abbvie 65.7 +1
Roche 65.0 +3
Johnson & Johnson 62.3 +1
Merck & Co 59.7 +3
Pfizer 57.1 -4
Novartis 55.2 -3
Astrazeneca 54.5 +2
Sanofi 50.8 0
Bristol Myers Squibb 44.3 -3
GSK 44.0 0
Source: Evaluate Pharma. 

Given the paper-thin margin between Roche and Abbvie it is easy to see how their positions might switch, for example if biosimilar erosion of Humira is more severe than the market is currently forecasting. Conversely, some of Roche’s longer-term success is based on the potential of the novel immuno-oncology mechanism Tigit blockade, in which the company is heavily invested.

Recent events makes those future sales highly questionable. Tiragolumab has now failed in two of the 10 studies that make up the Skyscraper programme, casting doubt on the Tigit mechanism. It is just as well that Roche’s multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, PD-L1 MAb Tecentriq and haemophilia product Hemlibra are forecast to grow strongly over the next six years.

Rapidly expanding oncology franchises are behind Merck & Co and Astrazenca’s rise up the rankings. Annual sales of Astra’s Tagrisso and Lynparza are expected to double between 2021 and 2028, while Merck’s Keytruda is forecast to rake in $30bn in 2028, making it the biggest-selling drug of that year.

Slow to middling

Troubles with pipeline expansion have relegated GSK and Sanofi the lower half of the table. Neither managed to capitalise on the Covid vaccine boom and both are struggling to find new growth drivers. 

In fact given GSK’s current form the UK developer could see its position in the top 10 threatened by Lilly, the 11th big pharma company, which is currently projected to bring in $38.9bn in prescription drug sales in 2028. The recently approved Mounjaro has delivered impressive results in both diabetes and obesity, and if the drug lives up to the more optimistic expectations Lilly could be catapulted up the rankings.

On the slide

One big surprise is just how far down the list Pfizer sits; its name has historically been found among the top three. This shows that the sales bonanza Pfizer has enjoyed during the pandemic is expected to be fleeting, though it is also true that the spin-out of many older products into Viatris in late 2020 shaved the company's top line.

Pfizer is fully expected to continue putting its Covid billions to work in the form of acquisitions and licensing deals. Novartis, flush from the sale of its stake in Roche and struggling to reinvigorate its revenues, might pursue this strategy too. 

Bristol Myers Squibb’s decline through the rankings seems inevitable, however. The company boasts one of the oldest pipelines in this list, with 72% of its 2021 revenues coming from products that are more than 10 years old, and with age come patent expiries. So far the group’s efforts to inject new blood into its pipeline have been less than successful.  

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