There are two words that are critical to every pharmaceutical company investor.

No, not "blockbuster drug" -- high expectations for those are usually pretty well baked into stock prices by the time sales hit the earnings reports.

Not "patent expiration" either, although expiring or changing patents can have a big impact on a pharmaceutical company.

I'm talking about "pipeline promise," which describes what products are currently being developed, what stage those products are in, and the amount of market share that they might garner. And for those of us who don't have biomedical degrees, there are a variety of resources (including some fantastic ones from Foolish contributors!) that can help clarify the different stages of approval.

As competition heats up for key drugs, it becomes even more important for investors to evaluate a company's next generation drugs' future potential. Investors in a company like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), which is seeing increased competition for blockbuster drugs like Zytiga and Remicade, will have to look into its pipeline to see what the future could hold.

Big promise for big results
J&J has gone on record saying it "plans to file more than 10 new products by 2019, each with potential to exceed $1 billion in revenue." This is in addition to 40 line extensions, which expand pharmaceutical products by gaining approval for new indications or new formulations of existing products, in the same time frame.

But does this promise ring true? J&J is looking to daratumumab, a potential treatment for multiple myeloma, to help fulfill this commitment. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 26,850 new cases of multiple myeloma in 2015. This particular type of blood cancer has a poor prognosis and limited treatment options for patients who relapse, making daratumumab a key drug for J&J. 

Daratumumab is in phase 3 development in both the U.S. and the EU and has received a Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the FDA, which will help expedite its approval process. With expectations to submit applications on a rolling basis, the hope is that sales could begin as soon as 2016 and hit the $1 billion mark before 2019.

Another key pipeline drug is sirukumab, which is being co-developed with GlaxoSmithKline as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Sirukumab is also in phase 3 in both the U.S. and EU. According to a recent study by Research and Markets, over 8.5 million people globally may be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis by 2023. Sirukumab could be a key option for patients who have failed other treatments. Although facing competition from other developing drugs like Eli Lilly's baricitinib and Sanofi and Regeneron's sarilumab, the size of this market worldwide could support multiple players.

A third intriguing pipeline candidate is the psoriasis treatment guselkumab. With concerns about J&J's Stelara facing stiff competition from other companies, guselkumab has the potential to help J&J remain competitive in the psoriasis market against Novartis' recently-approved Cosentyx. However, Cosentyx has the advantage in being the first to gain approval in the class of psoriasis drugs known as IL-17 inhibitors, so investors should keep a close eye to see whether guselkumab can compete effectively.

These three promising drugs will be key to J&J's future as a top-tier pharmaceutical company, particularly as key patents expire. More conservative investors might want to take a wait and see approach to J&J until we know for sure that these new drugs will bring in enough revenue to outweigh the loss of revenue from generic competition on older drugs. However, as a shareholder, I think J&J's future looks bright. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.