According to pharmaceutical market research giant IMS Health, global pharma sales grew 5.1% to $956 billion between 2010 and 2011. This represented an all-time high and was nearly double the level of $503 billion back in 2003. Growth has slowed from closer to 9% annually roughly a decade ago, but continues to advance at a very healthy clip. Below is an overview of five of the best-selling individual drugs of all time.

By a wide margin, Pfizer's Lipitor qualifies as the best-selling drug of all time. The blockbuster drug, which is used to lower cholesterol levels, was first introduced to the market in 1997 and had a strong run of exclusivity until its patent expired in late 2011. Its rise in popularity was attributed to the fact it lowered cholesterol faster than competing statin drugs, according to certain studies. One source put the drug's total sales up through 2011 at around $125 billion cumulatively. This included peak revenue years above $10 billion annually during 2009 and 2010. Sales have fallen dramatically now that the drug faces generic competition.

Plavix is offered by the pharma giants Sanofi and Bristol-Myers Squibb and is used to help lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. Like Lipitor, Plavix now faces generic competition and saw the approval of seven companies to sell the identical generic version in pharmacies back in May. However, it had a long run of annual sales levels in the multi-billion-dollar range. Its 2011 rank was number two at $9.3 billion in sales, which put it just behind Lipitor. For the five-year period between 2007 and 2011, Plavix logged total sales of $43.2 billion to place it firmly among the top-selling drugs of all time.

Seretide logged 2011 sales of $8.7 billion, which was its best year ever. The drug is sold by GlaxoSmithKline and is used to treat asthma. Seretide saw generic competition a couple of years ago in many of its global markets, but still holds protection in others, which is helping it hold onto many billions in annual sales. The compound is also said to be difficult to copy, which helps keep Glaxo's original version selling well.

Crestor is another cholesterol-lowering drug that competes with Lipitor and the wide range of current generic alternatives. The drug's owner is pharma giant AstraZeneca, and it appears the drug maintains patent protection in most of its large markets. In 2011, it was the fourth best-selling drug at $8 billion. This qualified as its best year ever, and the expiration of a couple of larger drugs above should allow Crestor to continue to build on its ranking as one of the best-selling drugs.

Humira is Abbott Laboratories' popular anti-arthritis drug. With Lipitor falling by the wayside, Humira is set to become the world's best-selling drug in 2012. Its 2011 sales came in at $7.3 billion, but sales are constantly on the rise. The drug is growing briskly and is the envy of rivals who have seen drugs fall by the wayside due to generic competition.

The Bottom Line
The patent expiration cliff of many blockbuster drugs makes it unlikely that many druge in the future will log sales above $10 billion annually. However, $1 billion in annual sales is all that is needed to technically qualify a drug as a blockbuster drug. Many of the above prescription medications should continue to achieve these sales levels in the near future despite the fact that many are already seeing generic competition.

Related Articles
  1. Insurance

    What's The Difference Between Medicare And Medicaid?

    One program is for the poor; the other is for the elderly. Learn which is which.
  2. Entrepreneurship

    How an Internet Sales Tax Will Affect Your Small Business

    Learn about how the Marketplace Fairness Act may impact small business owners should it pass in the House and what the act requires from business owners.
  3. Savings

    Craft Beer Clubs – Bargain or Not?

    If you're an aficionado of artisanal brews (or would like to be), a beer club can be a palate-pleasing, albeit pricey, way to expand your hops horizon.
  4. Financial Advisors

    Breaking Down Medicare Open Enrollment for Clients

    For financial advisors, open enrollment is an important opportunity to be of service to clients, especially when it comes to reviewing Medicare options.
  5. Taxes

    10 Money-Saving Year-End Tax Tips

    Getting organized well before the deadline will curb your frustration and your tax liability.
  6. Retirement

    Top Signs You Aren’t Ready to Retire Yet

    Think you are prepared to retire? These warning signs may indicate otherwise.
  7. Stock Analysis

    When Will Dick's Sporting Goods Bounce Back? (DKS)

    Is DKS a bargain here?
  8. Stock Analysis

    Has Urban Outfitters Lost its Way? (URBN)

    Urban Outfitters just made a bold move. Will it pay off?
  9. Stock Analysis

    Is Walmart's Rally Sustainable? (WMT)

    Walmart is enjoying a short-term rally. Is it sustainable? Is Amazon still a better bet?
  10. Savings

    Your Flex Spending Dollars: How to Use Them All

    Your flexible spending account is about to expire. Don't throw money away; here's how you can spend every cent (or roll it over).
  1. Is dental insurance tax deductible?

    Dental insurance premiums may be tax deductible. To be deductible as a qualifying medical expense, the dental insurance must ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Are Flexible Spending Account (FSA) contributions tax deductible?

    The contributions you make to your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) are not tax-deductible because the accounts are funded ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Does a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cover massages?

    Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) cover massages for certain medical treatments. These treatments must be approved and prescribed ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cover Lasik?

    Flexible spending accounts (FSA) can be used to pay for qualifying LASIK procedures. LASIK is not the only laser eye surgery ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Are Flexible Spending Account (FSA) expenses tax deductible?

    Flexible Spending Account (FSA) expenses are not tax deductible. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) states you cannot ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Does a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cover acupuncture?

    A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) covers acupuncture. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has defined acupuncture as a qualifying ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  2. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
  3. Black Monday

    October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost almost 22% in a single day. That event marked the beginning ...
  4. Monetary Policy

    Monetary policy is the actions of a central bank, currency board or other regulatory committee that determine the size and ...
  5. Indemnity

    Indemnity is compensation for damages or loss. Indemnity in the legal sense may also refer to an exemption from liability ...
  6. Discount Bond

    A bond that is issued for less than its par (or face) value, or a bond currently trading for less than its par value in the ...
Trading Center