Cleveland Clinic picks top 3 blockbuster drug candidates in the late-stage pipeline

Every year the Cleveland Clinic picks out what it sees as the best late-stage development projects in the healthcare industry. And this year it chose to highlight three of the biggest potential blockbusters in the biopharma business.

Ranked in order, the Cleveland Clinic selected Gilead's ($GILD) sofosbuvir, Novartis' ($NVS) heart drug serelaxin and the cancer drug ibrutinib from Pharmacyclics ($PCYC) and J&J ($JNJ) as the three experimental drugs likely to make the biggest near-term impact on people's health.

Sofosbuvir is the first likely entry in a list of new hepatitis C remedies that will offer millions of patients a chance to quell the virus with an oral approach the can eliminate the need for interferon, an injectable which frequently has a harsh effect on patients. Serelaxin takes a page from nature, offering a synthetic version of a hormone known to help with the circulation of blood in pregnant women, offering a new therapy that analysts believe can scoop up blockbuster revenue in the big cardiovascular field. And ibrutinib is the new B-cell receptor pathway inhibitor designed to scramble the division and spread of cancer cells.

All three of these drugs have been in the R&D spotlight for some time now, earning, for example, "breakthrough therapy" designations at the FDA. (For Gilead the "breakthrough" designation was awarded for a promising sofosbuvir combo in the clinic.) The Cleveland Clinic's selection, though, helps highlight what the nation's top docs are looking forward to using in their practices, helping the sponsor companies back up projections of major sales and adding some significant boasting rights to the reputation for cutting-edge innovation.

Perhaps inadvertently, the selection also highlights the role that smaller biotechs play in developing important new products. Novartis picked up serelaxin in a $620 million buyout deal with Corthera back in 2009, while J&J stepped in with one of its trademark $1 billion deals to take a major stake in ibrutinib. Gilead, of course, tops them all with the $11 billion Pharmasset buyout that snagged sofosbuvir.

At the time, some analysts shook their heads over the price for a risky experimental therapy. Now, with peak sales projections going up and up as a likely approval nears, Gilead's deal team is looking prescient.

- here's the story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Special Report: 10 top drugs in biopharma's late-stage pipeline - Sofosbuvir, Gilead