The Covid-19 pandemic had an unprecedented impact on the world in 2020. Communities across the globe came together and looked to the pharmaceutical industry to create solutions. Even with significant disruption and reprioritisation of clinical trial activity, R&D activity levels remained at historically high levels for the pharma industry in 2020, driven by new funding and strategic business transactions. This led to many pharma companies successfully developing drugs and vaccines against Covid-19 and rolled these out across the world. Many companies were able to meet their financial expectations last year as medicines kept reaching patients, despite lockdowns and social distancing.

Fuelled by new product launches and an aging population, the global pharmaceutical industry continues to grow and was up by an impressive US$1.27 trillion in 2020. Despite disruptions caused by the pandemic, the US FDA approved an impressive 53 new drugs and biologics in 2020, which surpassed the 48 new entities that were approved in 2019 and was the second-highest level of approvals in the last decade.

We have ranked the leading pharmaceutical companies by their 2020 revenue, looking at their pharmaceutical segment results only. The list below shows the top 10 biggest pharma companies in the world in 2021:

10. Amgen $25.4bn

Committed to unlocking the potential of biology, Amgen produces innovative medicines and delivers them to 100 countries and regions worldwide. After a fall in revenue in 2019, Amgen made a comeback in 2020 with sales up by a healthy 9%, driven by high volume growth across the portfolio particularly for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis treatment, Otezla, anti-cancer biosimilar, Mvasi, and cardiovascular disease treatment, Repatha. Further growth was offset by declines for biosimilars and generics which were negatively impacted by increased competition. Amgen’s Chairman and CEO, Robert A. Bradway, commented, “In a year marked by the disruption of Covid-19, we served patients around the world without interruption, advanced our pipeline and delivered strong financial performance, all while keeping our employees safe. As we move into 2021, we look forward to commercializing our pipeline successes.”

9. Takeda $29.2bn

Ranking in at number 9 in the list of top pharmaceutical companies is Japanese multinational, Takeda. As the largest pharmaceutical company in Asia, Takeda focuses its efforts in four core areas: oncology, rare diseases, neuroscience, and gastroenterology. In 2020, Takeda’s sales fell by 6%, impacted primarily by foreign exchange and divestitures, but underlying revenue growth rose slightly, driven by the growth of Takeda’s 14 global brands such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s treatment, Entyvio, which continued to grow well thanks to its expanded first line share. Takhzyro, the hereditary angioedema medication, also continued to perform well as it continues to expand the hereditary angioedema prophylaxis market, as well as launching into additional geographies. PDT Immunology treatment, Immunoglobulin, also boosted revenues with sales increasing by 15.7%. The company’s president and CEO, Christophe Weber, commented “As we celebrate Takeda’s 240th anniversary, I am extremely proud of our progress and confident in our outlook for the future. We will advance on our growth trajectory, maximize value creation for all of our stakeholders, and continue to position the company for long-term success.”

8. Sanofi $30.6bn

French multinational pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi is the eighth largest pharmaceutical company in the world by revenue. Sanofi provides healthcare solutions to 170 countries worldwide and has three core focuses: speciality care, vaccines, and general medicines. In 2020, Sanofi’s pharmaceutical segment sales grew by 6% on a year-on-year basis. Recently launched Eczema treatment, Dupixen, remained a key driver of growth. The company devised a new strategy in 2019 which has set off a new growth phase for the business, with strong growth for innovative medicine and a strengthened R&D pipeline particularly for oncology, inflammation and immunology. Looking ahead the company plans to strengthen its already solid foundations, and continue to prioritise key growth drivers, accelerate R&D efforts, and improve operational efficiencies. 

7. Bristol Myers Squibb $41.3bn

Taking the seventh spot in 2021 is global pharmaceutical company, Bristol-Myers Squibb. With 134 years in business, the company has made significant medical advancements in oncology, hematology, immunology and cardiovascular disease. The company’s product sales rose by 64% in 2020, largely thanks to the acquisition of MyoKardia, which the company completed on in November. With growth opportunities for the company’s in-line and launch portfolios combined with a robust product pipeline, Bristol-Myers Squibb remains well positioned to achieve steady and long-term sustainable growth.

6. Pfizer $41.9bn

Former number two, Pfizer, which specialises in the development of medicines and vaccines across a wide range of disciplines including immunology, oncology, cardiology and neurology, takes sixth place in the 2021 industry rankings, down by 19% as a result of the spin-off of Upjohn which completed in Q4. With the spin-off of Upjohn now complete, the company now moves forward as a single focused innovative biopharmaceutical company, working on the discovery, development, manufacturing, marketing, sales and distribution of biopharmaceutical products worldwide.  In 2020, Pfizer’s top performers included recently launched heart disease blockbuster, Vyndaqel/Vyndamax,  deep vein thrombosis treatment, Eliquis, driven primarily by continued increased adoption in non-valvular atrial fibrillation, and also pain reliver, Lyrica and arthritis treatment, Xeljanz. In the last few years Pfizer has dealt with some costly patent expirations including Viagra and Lyrica, but 2020 was a transformational year for the company. With their partner BioNTech, Pfizer became the first company to successfully develop a vaccine against Covid-19. Since being approved for emergency use, millions of people across the world have been given the vaccine, which will greatly boost the company’s position this year.

5. Merck $43bn

A staple to the top 10 pharmaceutical companies is American multinational, Merck & Co. Founded in 1891, Merck is headquartered in New Jersey and focuses on pharmaceuticals, vaccines and animal health. With 74,000 employees worldwide, the company is well known for its contributions to diabetes and cancer care. In 2020, Merck’s sales for its pharmaceuticals division increased by 3% to $43.0bn. Growth was driven by a strong performance for oncology, reflecting strong growth for melanoma prescription medicine, Keytruda. Higher sales of certain vaccines such as Pneumovax 23 also boosted revenues. However, further growth was offset by the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the loss of market exclusivity for several products, lower sales of paediatric vaccines, and pricing pressure in diabetes. In the announcement of the company’s full year results, Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck commented “Our scientists continue to advance our internal pipeline of promising medicines and vaccines, including in oncology, HIV, and pneumococcal disease, and, more recently, therapeutics for Covid-19. These pipeline developments provide us with increasing line-of-sight to significant potential growth drivers later this decade and into the next.”

4. Johnson & Johnson $45.6bn

Johnson & Johnson secures fourth place on this year’s top pharmaceutical companies list. With headquarters based in New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson develops and produces pharmaceuticals, medical devices and consumer health goods. Sales for the company’s pharmaceutical division grew by 8.4% driven by a number of key performers including the biologic for the treatment of a number of immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, Darzalex, treatment of multiple myeloma, Imruvica, and prostate cancer drug, Erleada. This growth was partially offset by the negative impact of Covid-19 as well as biosimilar and generic competition which caused declines for products such as treatment of a number of immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, Remicade and cancer treatment, Zytiga. In early 2021, J&J’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use by the FDA , which is expected to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and boost the company’s performance in 2021.

3. Abbvie $45.8bn

Innovation-driven AbbVie is the third largest pharma company by revenue this year. AbbVie was created in 2013, when the company separated from Abbott. Employing 48,000 experts worldwide in 70+ countries, AbbVie tends to drive its R&D efforts towards difficult-to-cure diseases and successfully acquired Allergan, which completed in May 2020, strengthening the company’s position in a number of therapeutic areas including immunology, oncology and neuroscience. In 2020, AbbVie’s revenues increased by 38%, with the immunology portfolio up by 13% and hematologic oncology up by an impressive 22%. Looking ahead, based on its broad portfolio and diversified growth assets, AbbVie expects to keep up the momentum and expects further impressive growth this year.

2. Novartis $48.6bn

Just missing out on first place is Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, Novartis, which has developed, manufactured and marketed breakthrough medicines for over 250 years. Now with presence in 155 countries across the world, Novartis focuses on innovative medicines as well as generics and biosimilars. Pharmaceuticals grew by 5% largely driven by Entresto. The chronic heart failure drug continues to make a steady climb up the market ladder, growing 45% in 2020 to $2.5 billion, and in February, it was granted an expanded label by FDA to include the majority of CHF patients. With a number of patent losses in 2020, the company faces stiff competition from scientific advances and other company’s new products, but remains confident in the progress it has made with its strategic priorities as a focused medicines company.

1. Roche $49.5bn

Roche maintains its position as the largest company by pharmaceutical sales in 2021. With a workforce of over 90,000 and headquarters based in Basel Switzerland, Roche is at the forefront of oncology, immunology, infectious diseases, ophthalmology and neuroscience. In 2020, sales of Roche’s pharma segment decreased by 6% due to the fact that patients were avoiding visiting healthcare providers with the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though pharma sales account for three-quarters of the company’s revenue, Roche’s Diagnostics division (not included in our figures) took centre stage in 2020 as countries across the world raced to track Covid-19 infections. Looking to the future, Roche is developing its capabilities and building partnerships ready to deliver on the next stage in personalised healthcare.

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Also published on Proclinical.com