Top Five Best-Selling Drugs

As proven by Pfizer via its cholesterol-reducing drug Lipitor, medicine can command much value. In fact, the Lipitor patent became the most profitable patent ever produced. Today, that patent has expired, making it worthless. However, without the patent, Lipitor may have never been successful at all. We list the top five 2013 best-selling drugs next and how patents play a role in their success.

According to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, the top five best-selling drugs and their 2013 sales are as follows.

  1. Humira – $10.659 billion.
  2. Remicade – $8.944 billion.
  3. Rituxan – $8.920 billion.
  4. Advair – $8.783 billion.
  5. Enbrel – $8.325 billion.

As noted, these drugs generate billions of dollars for big name pharmaceutical companies such as Amgen, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Pfizer, and Roche. With the exception of Advair, all of the top-selling drugs still have patent protection. This patent protection will give these companies an edge over competition for a few more years at least. The patent for Humira will expire in 2016, while Remicade and Rituxan will expire in 2018. Enbrel was set to expire in 2012, but received an extension for another 16 years.

While Advair remains one of the top-selling drugs, its lack of patent protection is starting to show its effects. The first quarter of 2014 showed a 10% drop in market share, due to rivals hitting the market with similar medication. Patents afford pharmaceutical companies the ability to keep competition at bay. They make it difficult for generics and other similar drugs to enter the market so that consumers are limited in choices. Therefore, the pharmaceutical under patent gains the most market share. Although Advair is listed among the top five best-selling drugs, it’s only a matter of time before it falls off the list, which appears to be soon. In the meantime, GlaxoSmithKline has to develop other medications and build its patent portfolio to help bring up sales.

Patents Critical to Pharma Industry

It’s common to read headlines regarding technology companies and patent lawsuits. These companies fight fiercely to protect their innovations. Further, their innovations often cross paths, causing confusion and more risk among competitors. While technology companies work diligently to build patent portfolios to beat the competition, pharmaceutical companies work just as diligently for the same reasons.

Patents provide great value to the pharma industry for a variety of reasons. Among those reasons is the ability to keep others from the market. When a pharma company has a patent on a specific drug, it’s much harder for a generic alternative to hit the shelves before a patent expires. This affords the company with a patented drug years of exclusivity. This exclusivity has garnered billions of dollars for pharmaceutical companies.

Patents also provide pharmaceutical companies great protection in the event of a lawsuit. Among pharma companies, lawsuits are common. According to Pricewaterhouse Cooper’s 2014 Patent Litigation Study, pharma companies gain great awards (or losses) in lawsuits. Biotechnology/pharma and medical device companies rank the highest among patent holders that have the most success rates in the event of a lawsuit. In addition, these same companies rank second and third, after telecommunications, with higher median damages awards than other industries. In fact, the largest damages award case involved a biotechnology company and pharmaceutical company in the amount of $1.7 billion, Centocor Ortho Biotech Inc. vs. Abbott Laboratories.

For these reasons, pharma companies seek to build their patent portfolios. The top pharma companies have no less than 500 U.S. patents, with many owning thousands. (And this doesn’t take into account international patents!) While patents can be costly, the cost invested in time, effort, and money for the creation of new drugs is greater. Therefore, the protection patents give to pharma companies is worth it. Patent protection may give pharma companies the ability to recoup investments in new products. Without this protection, pharma companies don’t stand a chance in the market.

Further, patents spur pharma companies to continue with their innovations. If there were no protection, then these companies would not put forth the effort to create new drugs. Without these new drugs, cures for cancer, autoimmune disorders, and other life-threatening diseases may never happen. With patents, the pharma industry can continue to improve the health of society and our quality of life.