AbbVie’s flagship therapy, a medicine used to treat a slew of conditions from arthritis to psoriasis to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is the bestselling drug in the world, bringing in nearly $20 billion in global sales last year alone. As one U.S. senator noted at a hearing on drug prices in February, that titanic sales figure would be enough to put Humira (were it a company unto itself) on the Fortune 500 list.
And on first glance, it’s hard to conceive of a more perfect archetype for drug success. Abbott Laboratories—which spun off its branded pharmaceuticals unit as a separate company, AbbVie, in 2013—received its first FDA approval to market the medicine on Dec. 31, 2002. A little more than two years later, the injectable drug surpassed the billion-dollar mark in global sales, traditionally the threshold for “blockbuster” status in the pharmaceutical industry—a stunning feat in such a brief span. By 2006, sales had reached $2 billion, a number that would more than double in just two years’ time. By 2013, Humira was the world’s bestselling drug, with $10.7 billion in sales across more than 60 markets, and as improbable as it seems, even that colossal sales figure has nearly doubled again in the half-decade since.
Humira is also, importantly, an effective medicine—and for s