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Barry Cohen
Barry Cohen
Articles (195) 

New Products, Expanded Indications Drive Sales of Top 5 Pharmas

Some companies may turn to acquisitions to boost revenues

Previously, I listed the 15 members of Big Pharma that are expected to record the highest sales in 2026, as reported by EvaluatePharma. Now we’ll look at the products and strategies that will propel the top five companies’ revenue.

Roche Holding AG (RHHBY)

  • Estimated 2026 sales: $61.9 billion
  • 2019 sales: $48.2 billion
  • 2019 to 2026 CAGR: 3.62%

Although the Swiss company is expected to suffer a $10 billion shortfall when three of its top-selling cancer drugs lose exclusivity, replacements are expected to step into the breach. That was the case in the first quarter, when two of the company’s new drugs to treat a type of breast cancer called HER2 surpassed sales of Roche’s blockbuster treatment, Hereceptin.

Roche is also a powerhouse in the neuroscience field. Among its treatments is the multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, whose sales jumped nearly 40% in the first quarter compared to the same period a year earlier. Also driving revenue growth is the hemophilia A drug Hemlibra, whose first-quarter sales climbed nearly 150%. To protect its hemophilia franchise, Roche just bought gene therapy specialist Spark Therapeutics.

At a price of more than $44, Roche is selling nearly $2 below its 52-week high.

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)

  • Estimated 2026 sales: $56.1 billion
  • 2019 sales: $46.1 billion
  • 2019 to 2026 CAGR: 2.83%

To help hit the 2026 sales target of more than $56 billion, Pfizer is jettisoning Upjohn and its underperforming generics business and emphasizing the company’s branded drugs and small consumer health line.

Upjohn contributed more than $10 billion to the Pfizer top line, but that and more could be made up after the spinoff via greater emphasis on Pfizer’s heart drug Vyndagel, blood thinner Eliquis and breast cancer treatment Ibrance.

These and two other medications form Pfizer’s core five products, which are being counted on as the primary sales drivers. FierceBiotech reported that in January, RBC Capital Markets analyst Randall Stanicky said the core five would likely survive a "messy" breakup with Upjohn.

Moreover, the group won’t face a serious patent loss until after 2025, which should give Pfizer the time to shore up its pharma business through the company’s pipeline or via strategic acquisitions

At just more than $35, Pfizer is selling at the mid-point of its one-year range.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)

  • Estimated 2026 sales: $54.6 billion
  • 2019 sales: $42.4 billion
  • 2019 to 2026 CAGR: 3.75%

Johnson & Johnson’s emphasis on its pharmaceuticals is paying off. In 2019, sales were more than $42 million, the largest total among the company’s three primary businesses. The percentage increase was also the biggest.

Sales of the company’s cancer drugs increased nearly 12% to $10.7 billion last year while immunology climbed nearly 8% to almost $14 billion. The neuroscience franchise generated $6.3 billion, a 6.6% increase, while sales for cardiovascular, metabolic and other meds came in at $5.2 billion, a 9.7% decrease.

The company’s pipeline looks strong and Johnson & Johnson could see label expansions for several of its key drugs in 2020. FierceBiotech reported that last month that Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Louise Chen wrote in a note to clients that the company's hematology franchise and its therapeutics business, in general, are both underappreciated.

Chen’s team said two Johnson & Johnson cancer drugs in its pipeline are very promising. The company also has two neuroscience treatments that are in the late stages of testing. The Cantor team rated Johnson & Johnson among its top picks earlier this year, citing a “leading pharma business that is well-positioned to drive above-market growth” in 2020 and beyond.

At about $147.50, the stock is trading just 6% under its 52-week high.

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Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS)

  • Estimated 2026 sales: $54.25 billion
  • 2019 sales: $46.08 billion
  • 2019-26 CAGR: 2.36%

In two years, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan’s strategy is bearing fruit. He has successfully transformed the Swiss company into a pharma giant with a broad portfolio of medications in the fields of immunology, cardiology, neuroscience, oncology and beyond. Plus, the company is working to expand its territory and pursue new indications for existing drugs and entirely new treatments.

The company has been busy, acquiring Advanced Accelerator Applications, Endocyte, AveXis and The Medicines Company and selling its over-the counter business to joint venture partner GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and spinning off Alcon Inc. (ALC).

Novartis’ top seller is Cosentyx, which treats plaque psoriasis and certain types of arthritis. It brought in more than $3.5 billion last year, up 25% for the same period a year earlier. The drug recently received Food and Drug Administration approval for another inflammatory disease.

The company’s heart drug Entresto contributed more than $1.7 billion to the company’s top line last year and a new indication could propel annual sales to $5 billion. At the same time, recent drug launches have been disappointing, but Novartis has demonstrated the wherewithal to overcome slow starts in the past.

The company has a number of cancer drugs and recently got the green light from the Food and Drug Administration for a key one, Tabrecta. Novartis has high hopes for the cholesterol drug Inclisiran, the crown jewel in its acquisition of MedCo. The company is banking on getting 50 drugs approved in China and doubling its current sales there from $2.2 billion currently.

Novartis is selling at about $12 below its year high of just under $100.

 AbbVie Inc.(NYSE:ABBV)

  • Estimated 2026 sales: $53.56 billion (includes Allergan)
  • 2019 sales: $32.35 billion
  • 2019-26 CAGR: 1.84%

AbbVie went from 2019 sales of $32.3 billion to an estimate of more than $53.5 billion by 2026, thanks in great part to is acquisition of Allergen. The company may be forced to go the mergers and acquisitions route again to help overcome several challenges to its revenue base in the coming years.

Humira, the world's top-selling drug with more than $19 billion in sales last year, is set to lose U.S. exclusivity in 2023. Knowing that billions of dollars in revenue are at risk, AbbVie last year agreed to shell out $63 billion for Allergan, gaining the blockbuster Botox and several other products in the deal.

But even after that massive buyout, Evaluate says it's “not out of the question for AbbVie to consider further moves.” With an annual growth rate of 1.84% in the cards through 2026, more deal making might well be necessary, Evaluate said.

With a projected $20 million in sales, follow-up drugs could one day bring in more to the top line than Humira, AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez said earlier this year at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

The Humira loss will be painful for AbbVie, but RBC Capital Markets analysts see the drugmaker becoming a "growth story again on the other side," according to FierceBiotech. The opportunity is currently "under-appreciated," RBC analyst Randall Stanicky wrote in a note to clients, and will be partly driven by "pipeline visibility and confidence increases over the next couple of years."

AbbVie is trading at nearly $99, up nearly 60% from its 52-week low.

Disclosure: The author has a position in Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

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About the author:

Barry Cohen
Barry Cohen has nearly 40 years experience in communications and marketing, the majority in senior positions at large international health care companies, including Abbott Laboratories and Bayer Inc.

He has contributed to a number of financial websites, writing primarily about the stocks of health care companies.

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