Tarceva, a cancer drug with one of the industry's highest profiles, is quickly propelling OSI Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:OSIP) toward biotech's top tier. Approved for the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer just this past November, Tarceva has charged out of the gate for OSI, which released its Q1 earnings report this week. The drug has already notched total quarterly sales of $47.6 million.

Unfortunately for OSI, that $47.6 million gets cut up. The company has partnered Tarceva with Genentech (NYSE:DNA) and Roche, so it receives only a fraction of the drug's revenue. For Q1, OSI's share came to $11.7 million. That number may not wow people, but remember that this drug is very early in its sales ramp.

Over the next few years, Tarceva is going to mature into a big winner for OSI and Genentech. With AstraZeneca's (NYSE:AZN) competing drug Iressa falling on its face, Tarceva has a dominant position in the treatment of lung cancer, and will likely obtain a high market share.

The companies also recently reported that Tarceva is effective for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. That is a significant accomplishment; pancreatic cancer is incredibly difficult to treat. Tarceva will probably be approved for this treatment by the end of the year, and uptake should be rapid. Its use in treating two types of cancer virtually assures that the drug will be a major blockbuster.

For now, OSI is essentially the Tarceva story. But that's OK. Building a profitable drug company takes time; the launch of a small company's first drug provides the resources to develop additional products. OSI is beginning to do just that, with another three pre-clinical drugs moving into phase 1 trials by the end of this year.

For additional articles on the biotech industry, see:

If you're interested in biotechnology and other exciting industries, check out our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter, whose team is always on the lookout for the best opportunities around. A free trial is yours for the taking.

Fool contributor Charly Travers is the Motley Fool Rule Breakers biotech analyst. He does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article.