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5 Most Valuable Pipeline Drugs in Development -- and the Stocks Poised to Profit

By Keith Speights – Updated Jun 12, 2019 at 4:30PM

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New blockbusters could be on the way for five drugmakers.

Thousands of experimental drugs are in development right now. Most of them will never make it to market. Some that do won't achieve tremendous commercial success. But there are a few drugs in pipelines right now that will go on to generate billions of dollars in sales.

Market research company EvaluatePharma recently released its World Preview 2019, Outlook to 2024 report. This report identified the current candidates that the company projects will be the biggest winners in 2024. Here are the five most valuable pipeline drugs in development -- and the stocks that are poised to profit from these drugs.

Female scientist in a lab holding a pipette and test tube

Image source: Getty Images.

1. VX-445 (elexacaftor), tezacaftor, and ivacaftor triple-drug combo

Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX 1.82%) already claims a virtual monopoly in treating the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis (CF). The biotech's current three CF drugs should generate combined sales of close to $3.5 billion this year. Another blockbuster is likely to join those three drugs on the market in 2020 -- Vertex's triple-drug CF combo featuring VX-445 (elexacaftor), tezacaftor, and ivacaftor.

EvaluatePharma projects that this triple-drug combo will rake in close to $4.3 billion by 2024. The market researcher pegs the net present value of the drug at nearly $20 billion, making it the most valuable pipeline asset in the biopharmaceutical industry right now.

2. Upadacitinib

AbbVie's (ABBV -0.26%) Humira currently ranks as the world's top-selling drug. The big pharma company won approval from the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year for another potential immunology blockbuster, Skyrizi. EvaluatePharma ranked Skyrizi as the No. 3 top new drug launch of 2019. The No. 2 new drug launch of the year is also the No. 2 most valuable pipeline asset. And this drug -- upadacitinib -- also belongs to AbbVie.

Upadacitinib should make $2.5 billion in annual sales by 2024 if EvaluatePharma's projections are on track. EvaluatePharma calculated the drug's net present value to be more than $10.2 billion. AbbVie expects to win FDA approval for upadacitinib in treating rheumatoid arthritis in the third quarter of 2019.

3. Trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201)

Trastuzumab deruxtecan (also known as DS-8201) wasn't even in EvaluatePharma's top 10 list of pipeline programs last year. But Daiichi Sankyo (DSNKY 0.03%) accelerated plans to file for FDA approval of the drug as a second-line treatment for HER-positive breast cancer after a successful phase 2 clinical study. Most drugs go through three stages of clinical testing before a drugmaker will file for approval. 

EvaluatePharma estimates that trastuzumab deruxtecan will pull in nearly $1.8 billion by 2024 if approved. The company assigned the drug a net present value of $9.1 billion.

4. Liso-cel

Celgene (CELG) landed the No. 4 spot on EvaluatePharma's list with liso-cel. The biotech expects to submit the CAR-T therapy for FDA approval in treating non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the second half of this year. Liso-cel is one of the crown jewels in Celgene's pipeline that made the company so attractive to Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY -0.25%) that it's in the process of acquiring Celgene

EvaluatePharma thinks that the CAR-T therapy could generate close to $1.4 billion in global sales by 2024. The net present value for liso-cel was calculated at just under $9 billion.

5. LY3298176

Technically, Novartis' (NVS -3.20%) gene therapy Zolgensma ranked No. 5 on EvaluatePharma's list of the top pipeline candidates. However, the FDA approved Zolgensma in May just before the market researcher's report was released. Since Zolgensma is no longer a pipeline candidate, Eli Lilly's (LLY -0.49%) diabetes drug LY3298176 moved up a notch to make the top five.

LY3298176 should make a little over $1 billion by 2024 if it's approved, according to EvaluatePharma's projections. The drug's net present value stands at nearly $7.5 billion. 

Which stocks will win the most?

All five of the drugmakers with pipeline candidates landing spots near the top of EvaluatePharma's analysis will reap the rewards from these drugs, assuming they win regulatory approval. I think that two stocks, in particular, will especially be helped by successful launches of their promising pipeline candidates on this list.

Vertex has the top candidate and is likely to be the biggest winner. Its triple-drug CF combo will boost the number of patients eligible for treatment by more than 50%.

I think that AbbVie will also benefit tremendously from the launch of upadacitinib. The drug was even better than Humira in clinical studies. Investor sentiment has been negative about AbbVie this year, but my hunch is that success for both Skyrizi and upadacitinib could turn things around for the big pharma stock.

Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie, Celgene, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Celgene. The Motley Fool recommends Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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