Thomson Reuters spotlights the R&D trends behind 2016's top blockbusters

Last year Thomson Reuters started 2015 by pegging 11 likely blockbusters in the late-stage pipeline. This year, that number has shrunk to 7, as rare diseases and new drug cocktails continue to grab the attention of the most ambitious players in the industry.

Thomson Reuters' report, which follows a similar effort by EvaluatePharma, taps these 7 programs as the ones most likely to earn more than $1 billion in revenue by 2020. And Gilead ($GILD), which has been earning huge rewards from its new hep C drug franchise, stands to be the single biggest single gainer on that short list with two new cocktails for HIV.

• Obeticholic acid (OCA) for liver disease from Intercept and Sumitomo Dainippon -- 2020: $2.6 billion.
• Emtricitabine + tenofovir alafenamide (F/TAF) for HIV-1 from Gilead -- 2020: $2 billion.
• Tenofovir alafenamide + emtricitabine + rilpivirine (R/F/TAF), for HIV-1 from Gilead -- 2020: $1.6 billion.
• MK-5172A (grazoprevir + elbasvir) for hep C from Merck -- 2020: $1.5 billion.
• Venetoclax for chronic lymphocytic leukemia from AbbVie/Roche -- 2020: $1.5 billion
• Nuplazid (pimavanserin) for Parkinson's from Acadia Pharmaceuticals -- 2020: $1.4 billion
• Uptravi (selexipag) for pulmonary arterial hypertension from Nippon Shinyaku Co and Actelion -- 2020: $1.3 billion.

The analysts at Thomson Reuters zeroed in on the growing importance of orphan drugs like OCA and venetoclax, which accounted for close to half of all the record number of drugs approved in 2015. With development times shortening and incentives growing for the orphan class, you can expect this trend to remain strong for some time.

The new report also highlights the importance of new, easier cocktail therapies for HIV and hepatitis C in the pipeline.

Another trend that will stay front and center: The criticism of high drug prices can only intensify. Gilead started the furor with its pricing on Sovaldi, and companies are expected to turn to new pricing models that may help moderate the backlash. This report highlighted Novartis' ($NVS) suggestions on creating a success-driven pricing model for the heart failure drug Entresto as one initiative that's likely to breed more price experimentation.

EvaluatePharma's list included two new drugs from Roche that could beat just about everything on Thomson Reuters' list: the PD-L1 drug atezolizumab and ocrelizumab, in late-stage development for multiple sclerosis. But launch dates aren't set in stone.

One other cautionary note: Just because analysts expect a drug can earn blockbuster revenue 5 years ahead, there's no guarantee that all these drugs will be OK'd by the FDA. At least a couple of these drugs on the list face some real challenges. And even if they are approved, sell-siders have been notoriously wrong about projections like these in the past. 

- here's the report

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