AbbVie's Humira on Pace to Become Biggest Seller by 2024

Humira, AbbVie Inc.'s (NYSE:ABBV) flagship drug, is projected to supplant the popular heart treatment Lipitor as the best-selling drug of all time, reaching cumulative sales of $240 billion in 2024. This according to Evaluate, which provides commercial intelligence for the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

Lipitor is hardly disappearing, though. Five years from now, the Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) blockbuster will still be the second-highest selling drug ever, having generated total revenue of $180 billion, according to an article in FiercePharma.

Sales of Humira, an immunology medication, have reached $137 billion since it was launched in 2003. However, the drug is generating about 6% less revenue this year due to competition from biosimilars outside the U.S. A biosimilar is a biologic medical product that is comparable to another already approved biological medicine. They can be produced when the original product loses patent protection. Generics, meanwhile, are considered equivalents to the parent drug.

AbbVie doesn't have all its eggs in one basket, but the importance of Humira is clear: It accounted for more than 40% of the company's overall sales last year. The company has to be more than a little concerned over potential erosion of its flagship product. Two biosimilars are poised to enter the U.S. market in 2023- Amjevita by Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) and Cyltezo by privately owned Boehringer Ingelheim. And as soon as next year, the field will become more crowded with Remicade from Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Amgen's Enbrel entering the fray.

The management team at Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) must be smiling as they look at the projections for the drug Revlimid, which they will add to their armamentarium when the company's acquisition of Celgene closes. The cancer drug is on track to continue to be a best seller--aided by approval for new uses--even though it's been on the market for a decade. Its cumulative sales are forecast to reach just under $125 billion by 2024.

Roche (RHHBF) had three of the top drugs in 2018, Herceptin, Avastin and the top-seller Rituxan, which generated $4.25 billion in U.S. sales. The first two are likely to be severely threatened by competition from biosimilars and Rituxan could very well follow in their footsteps.

A FiercePharma article pointed out that Teva (NYSE:TEVA) and South Korea's Celltrion are expected to begin marketing their biosimilar Truxima this year. Meanwhile, a copy of Rituxan from Fosun Pharma's (SHSE:600196) Shanghai Henlius Biotech became the first biosimilar approved in China. Rituxan sales in Europe were halved in the fourth quarter last year.

Roche doesn't think the switch to biosimilars in the U.S. will happen as quickly as in Europe, confident the Rituxan erosion rate will be slower. To protect itself, the company is shoring up its product line with some newer drugs, including Ocrevus, which Roche is plugging as its most successful launch ever.

Disclosure: The author holds positions in Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Teva and Johnson & Johnson.

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This article first appeared on GuruFocus.