Covid infects biopharma’s biggest sellers

The Biontech/Pfizer pandemic vaccine sneaks into the 10 biggest-ever cumulative sellers, while Merck & Co’s Keytruda vaults to second place.

It takes phenomenal revenues to win a place among biopharma’s biggest-selling drugs, and not many franchises are likely ever to amass more than $100bn in lifetime sales. Remarkably, 15 products are set to achieve this.

And there are a couple of new arrivals since the last time Evaluate Vantage ran these numbers, in mid-2019. Biontech and Pfizer’s Comirnaty is the most notable addition, considering the short amount of time it will have taken to generate these sales. With the outlook for Covid-related products still highly unpredictable this vaccine could yet climb the rankings, and other pandemic projects might also make appearances.

Paxlovid is a contender, with Pfizer’s $22bn guidance for 2022 sales likely to be a floor. Demand will have to persist for a few more years for the oral antiviral to join the top 10, the chart below shows.

The first chart below includes five years of forecast sales, based on Evaluate Pharma sellside consensus, so the numbers are liable to change. But, with most of these products well established and the majority of revenues already booked, it would be surprising to see these drugs failing to meet expectations.

Another new arrival is Merck & Co’s Keytruda; our previous analysis only stretched to 2024, so a couple more years of $25bn+ in annual sales have given the numbers attached to this cancer drug a big boost. Bristol Myers Squibb’s rival checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo sits just outside this analysis, in 12th place.

As a more recent entrant Keytruda still has a lot to do, but at least one of the biggest potential threats to its future sales – low-cost competition in the PD-(L)1 class – seems to be dissipating. In fact, if this analysis shows anything it is that efforts to curb drug prices are having little impact, with manufacturers still able to forge immense and durable revenue streams.

Still, on lifetime sales Keytruda is unlikely to challenge Humira. Merck’s cancer antibody loses patent protection at the end of 2028, and for now analysts are not forecasting the same longevity that Abbvie – or its lawyers, at least – managed to extract for Humira.

Biosimilar versions of Humira arrive in the US next year, although they have been available for some time in other regions. Consensus still has $54bn in sales over the next five years, and even in 2026 Humira is projected to pull in $5.7bn for Abbvie. Biosimilar manufacturers will be hoping that this outlook turns out to be optimistic.

The chart below looks only at sales already booked, revealing that seven products had generated more than $100bn in cumulative revenues by the end of 2021. With a number of drugs well on the way to reaching this threshold, the mega-blockbuster group will soon be getting bigger.

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