Solanezumab - 15 top blockbuster contenders

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The drug: Solanezumab
The disease: Alzheimer's
The developer: Eli Lilly
Peak projections: $5 billion-plus

Eli Lilly's John Lechleiter (photo) has a lot riding on solanezumab. The company took a nasty hit when its other Alzheimer's drug, semagacestat, foundered in a late-stage study last year. The data there underscored how risky the whole field is, as well as how much there is yet to learn about the disease and the ways it can be treated. Lilly insists that its in-house drug development team knows how to produce blockbusters.

Lilly officials have repeatedly cited the antibody program as one of its biggest contenders in the pipeline, capable of demonstrating in a late-stage trial it can slow disease progression. While failure here may not be an option, it's certainly in the back of everyone's mind.

Lilly is following the same marketing star that J&J and Pfizer and Elan spied long ago when they pushed ahead on bapineuzumab. Barclays' Tony Butler told Bloomberg last year that a drug that demonstrates an ability to reduce memory loss should be able to garner $5 billion in annual sales. Another perspective: Decision Resources estimates that the Alzheimer's disease drug market will boom from $5.4 billion in 2010 to $14.3 billion in 2020 in the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K. and Japan.

Lilly wants to be out front on that one. The greater the unknowns, the bigger the potential sales. Phase III data is due in Q3, 2012.

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