Reports: Humira to become top-selling drug this year


NEW YORK — Move over, Lipitor: There's a new top drug on the market, according to published reports.

Based on analysis compiled by Thomson Reuters Pharma, Reuters reported Wednesday that Abbott Labs' arthritis drug Humira (adalimumab) would become the highest-selling drug in the world this year, replacing Pfizer's cholesterol drug Lipitor (atorvastatin). And, according to Reuters, Lipitor and the No. 2 drug, Bristol-Myers Squibb's and Sanofi's blood-thinning drug Plavix (clopidogrel) — also set to face generic competition — might not even make the top 10 list.

The loss of Lipitor's long-held top spot comes as no surprise as the drug lost patent protection in November 2011 and currently faces competition from Ranbaxy Labs' cheaper generic version. Other generics are likely to enter the market when Ranbaxy's own market exclusivity period ends in May, bringing prices for the drug down even further. Lipitor had sales of $7.7 billion in 2011, while Plavix sold $6.8 billion, according to IMS Health. Humira currently is at 10th place, with sales of $3.5 billion in 2011, according to IMS.

The trend is emblematic of drug makers' gradual shift away from a model of drug development that has relied on small-molecule medicines for such primary care conditions as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, and toward specialty drugs for such diseases as cancer and autoimmune disorders, especially biotech drugs. While those drugs target smaller patient populations, they sell at prices that allow drug companies to head off loss of patent protection for blockbuster drugs, and are more difficult to duplicate for generic companies that may seek to create biosimilar versions in the future.

Currently, by IMS' count, Humira is the only specialty drug among the top 10, but among the top 15, all but one of the bottom six are specialty biotech medicines.

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