NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Drug sales for cancer treatments are expected to more than double over the next five years, with cancer drugs replacing cholesterol-reducers as the number one pharmaceutical sector, according to a report from IMS Health.
"Right now it's probably the fastest growing drug sector," said Jason Kantor of RBC Capitals Markets.
Oncology drug sales are projected to reach $55 billion in 2009, compared to the $24 billion in 2004, according to data unveiled Monday by Graham Lewis, vice president of global pharma strategy for IMS.
Cancer is America's second-biggest killer behind heart disease, and analysts say that Genentech (down $1.99 to $88.01, Research), is one of the best-poised large bitoech drug makers to reap the benefits of growing sales in cancer treatment.
Analysts identified some of the fastest growing cancer drugs as Avastin and Herceptin, both from Genentech, as well as Gleevec, a $1.6 billion drug from Swiss drug maker Novartis (down $0.72 to $48.86, Research), and Sutent, which the drug giant Pfizer (down $0.33 to $25.57, Research) filed with the Food and Drug Administration this summer.
"The biggest oncology treatment would probably be Genentech's Avastin," said Howard Liang, analyst for A.G. Edwards & Sons. Liang said the biotech has completed late-stage data to expand Avastin into treatments for lung and breast cancer. The company is conducting tests for additional uses in treating prostate cancer.
Avastin, which combined with chemotherapy slows the spread of colorectal cancer, was introduced to the market in 2004 and totaled $447 million in the first half of 2005, on track to become a blockbuster this year at its current rate of growth.
Herceptin, a treatment for women with HER-2 positive breast cancer, which includes about one-fourth of women with breast cancer, totaled nearly $500 million in 2004 sales. Genentech has released data from a series of tests this year showing the increased benefit of combining Herceptin with chemotherapy, and prompting some analysts to project doubled sales.
Analysts also see Amgen (up $1.27 to $86.13, Research), the world's biggest biotech, well-poised to reap the profits of an expanding drug sector. Amgen has four oncology drugs on the market, including Aranesp, Neupogen, Neulasta and Kepivance, and nine in its pipeline.
So what's the downside in the cancer drug sector? The drug prices are unsustainably high, said Liang. "The drugs are so expensive, I think there will be some kind of pushback on the pricing," the analyst said.
Treatments for lowering statins, or blood fats, are currently the lead sector, totaling $27 billion in 2004 sales. This sector is lead by Pfizer's Lipitor, a statin and the top-selling drug of all time, with $10.8 billion in 2004 sales. The statin sector is projected to grow by more than half to $38 billion in 2009, but would slide to second place as oncology becomes the lead sector, according to IMS.
In addition, the IMS study, presented at a Generic Pharmaceutical Association conference in Washington, D.C., revealed that biotechs and generic drug makers have outpaced the overall drug industry in annual sales growth. Over the last 12 months ending in June, the total drug market grew 7 percent, compared to 17 percent for biotechs and 13 percent for generics.
To read about potential new cancer drugs announced at this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology, click here.
The analysts interviewed for this story and their firms do not own stock in companies mentioned here.