Worldwide orphan drug sales are slated to reach $127 billion by 2018, according to an EvaluatePharma® report released today. Excluding generics, orphan drugs are expected to make up 15.9% of overall prescription sales within that same timeframe.

EvaluatePharma’s Orphan Drug Report 2013 also notes that orphan drugs offer significantly increased ROI as compared with nonorphan drugs. “The industry’s expected return on orphan drugs is 10.3 times the investment (Phase III), versus six times the investment on nonorphans,” the industry analysis firm notes.

That’s in large part because orphan drugs beget smaller—and therefore less costly—Phase III trials. (The report notes that the average Phase III trial size for the top 10 orphans was 592 patients versus 8,614 for their nonorphan counterparts.)

According to the report, Novartis led 2012 orphan drug sales, raking in $10.9 billion. Roche and Celgene rounded out the top three with $9 billion and $4.9 billion in orphan drug sales, respectively. EvaluatePharma expects Novartis will remain the industry leader through 2018, at which point the pharma giant’s orphan drug sales are projected to reach $11.8 billion.

The top-selling orphan drug in 2012 was Roche’s Rituxan. First approved in 1997 for the orphan treatment of non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphoma, Rituxan is also approved for chronic lymphocytic leukemia and has nonorphan approval for rheumatoid arthritis. EvaluatePharma expects Rituxan will retain its number-one billing through 2018.

Discussing his team’s results during a press conference held at the BIO International Convention in Chicago this week, EvaluatePharma’s Anthony Raeside dismissed the myth that orphan drugs make it to market faster than nonorphans.

Raeside, head of research, added that while the overall prescription drug market showed a decline in 2012, “the orphan market was still growing.”

The orphan drug market “is really a growth story,” he said. “And it’s becoming a more and more important part of the industry.”

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