• Staff

The Top 5 Best Selling Blockbusters in the World

While the worldwide sales rankings of Big Pharma’s blockbuster drugs typically feature the biggest names in the industry, new meds routinely popup, and the old ones leave the scene over time. Moreso, the list witnesses many moves from year to year which highlight the trends shaping the industry on a daily basis.

The three top-ranking drugs – AbbVie’s Humira, Merck’s Keytruda, and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Revlimid have maintained their positions year over year. The first major change to the list is at Number 4 with Bristol Myers and Pfizer’s ascendant blood thinner Eliquis. In 2019, Bristol’s checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo held that position. But the med, initially a competitor to Keytruda, couldn’t maintain pace with Merck and dropped to No.8 in 2020.

Roche’s aging cancer superstar Avastin experienced a dramatic plunge of its own. The drug generated raked in $7.12 billion in 2019, enough for the eighth position on the list, but as biosim challengers gained steam, sales dropped to $5.32 billion in 2020. Avastin ended up at number 14. Rituxan, another Roche superstar with new biosimilar rivalry, dropped 7 spots to number 17.

Many big-selling meds dropped off the ranking altogether. Biogen’s multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera, under generic pressure, couldn’t make the cut in 2020, as did Gilead’s HIV drug Genvoya and Roche’s cancer blockbuster Herceptin.

Three drugs – Roche’s multiple sclerosis launch Ocrevus, Pfizer and Astellas oncology offering Xtandi, and AstraZeneca’s cancer med Tagrisso – all made the cut for the first time.

With worldwide sales data from Fierce Pharma in collaboration with EvaluatePharma, we bring to you the top 5 drugs by global sales in 2020.


Company: AbbVie

2020 sales: $20.39 billion

Diseases: Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, Crohn’s disease, plaque psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, hidradenitis suppurativa.

How did Covid-19 pandemic impact Biopharma sales in 2020? Look no further than the world’s bestselling drug. After a much-awaited decline in sales of 3.9% in 2019, Humira rebounded with a 3.5% increase in 2020.

Humira’s decline in 2019 was anticipated, as it was the very first time the med faced rivalry from biosimilars in Europe. Due to this, global sales plummeted by 31%. However, this year, Humira withstood the global erosion and maintained a growing force in the United States, which accounted for $16.1 billion of its total sales, as compared to $14.9 billion the previous year.

Other tried-and-confirm drugs had similar performances in 2020, as patients were unwilling to visit doctors and were less ready to change to newer treatments during the pandemic. Sales of Humira actually grew in each quarter of 2020, from $4.7 billion in the first quarter to $5.15 billion in the fourth quarter.

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

However, with its patent due to expire in 2023 and biosimilar competition in the U.S. around the corner, the clock is ticking on Humira’s long run.

AbbVie is already preparing for this by fronting its plaque psoriasis med Skyrizi and rheumatoid arthritis treatment Rinvoq as substitutes. The company believes both drugs could bring in a combined $15 billion by 2025. The company has also acquired Allergan, which manufactures blockbuster Botox and antipsychotic Vraylar.

Humira has maintained its position as the world’s top-selling drug since 2012. If the drug maintains its position in 2021, it will be in line to overtake Lipitor as the world’s best-selling drug ever.


Company: Merck & Co.

2020 sales: $14.38 billion

Diseases: non-small cell lung cancer, liver cancer, head and neck cancer, cervical cancer, stomach cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer (in combination with Lenvima), esophageal cancer, melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, large B-cell lymphoma, Merkel cell carcinoma.

Over a decade ago, when an immune-targeted approach using monoclonal antibodies to treat cancer was first considered feasible, it offered a great chance for innovative Biopharma companies. Merck took that opportunity with Keytruda, which is now on its way to become the world’s top-selling drug.

Keytruda could claim the number one spot by 2023 when AbbVie’s Humira faces competition from biosimilars. However, the relatively new and rapidly changing immuno-oncology market is unpredictable, as proved by Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo, an I-O star that has since suffered declining sales growth.


Company: Bristol Myers Squibb

2020 sales: $12.15 billion

Diseases: Mantle cell lymphoma, myelodysplastic syndromes, Multiple myeloma, marginal zone lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

When Bristol Myers Squibb signed its $74 billion deal for Celgene back in early 2019, no one knew what would become of big-selling blood cancer med Revlimid. Generic threats showed up, but BMS has so far fended off early biosimilars, and sales again rose in 2020.

Revlimid’s sales topped $12 billion last year, making it the Pharma’s industry third bestselling product. The drug couldn’t have achieved that height without price increases, though. The drug started off at $215 per pill, but after over 20 price increases, the med now sells above $750 per pill.


Company: Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb

2020 sales: $9.17 billion

Disease: Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation

As Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb push to improve their presence in treating cancer and rare diseases, their shared mass-market drug Eliquis continues to drive growth.

Pfizer provides around half of the development costs, and the firms share profits and losses equally. In a few countries, Pfizer markets the drug and pays BMS fees.

Eliquis has been on a tear in recent times after crossing the blockbuster threshold in 2015.

The rapid Eliquis growth comes on the back of Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb huge transformations. On Pfizer’s part, the company offloaded its generics and off-patent business Upjohn to concentrate more on new drugs and innovation. In its own case, BMS recently acquired Celgene to improve its presence in oncology and other high-growth treatment aspects.

Pfizer reported $4.95 billion in Eliquis alliance direct sales and revenues, an 18% increase, thanks to rapid intake. The med delivered share profits in the oral anticoagulant market, but reduced net prices in the U.S. offered a drag on the growth.


Company: Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie

2020 sales: $8.43 billion

Diseases: Marginal zone lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, mantle cell lymphoma, chronic graft vs. host disease.

Competitors lurked around Imbruvica in 2020 and so did U.S. lawmakers, who sought to understand why an annual regimen of the drug costs approximately $148,000.

But Imbruvica survived both onslaughts and remained firmly entrenched as one of the world’s top blood cancer med. The drug racked up $8.43 billion in sales, and evident that it’s not prepared to surrender its dominance of the BTK inhibitor market.

The 2020 sales figures are shared between AbbVie ($5.31 billion) and Johnson & Johnson ($4.13 billion). AbbVie’s figures includes $1.0 billion in collaboration income.