Swiss giant Roche tops Pharmaceutical Executive’s 2020 list of the world’s biggest pharma companies, up from second place in 2019 and third in 2018. Though its best-selling drugs are soon to face biosimilar competition, Roche’s diverse portfolio has ensured that it can continue to drive future sales growth. The firm recently made headlines for its lightning-fast approval of the first commercial COVID-19 diagnostic test. 


Beating out US-based Pfizer to the number one spot this year, Roche counted an 8.3 percent increase in sales revenues over the last year. Reinvesting over USD 10 billion of its revenues into R&D, Roche also earned a top spot on the list of companies with highest R&D spend. 


Roche’s top-selling drug was Avastin, a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer which accounted for 15 percent of the firm’s revenues. Though biosimilar competition is expected in the coming years, Roche has other key sales drivers in areas where growth is projected, including multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, haemophilia medicine Hemlibra, and cancer treatments Tecentriq and Perjeta. 


Roche is one of the many pharma companies on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Its diagnostic test was approved in record time by the FDA, and was the first commercial test to be launched during the pandemic. The test, named cobas® SARS-CoV-2, takes swab samples from the patient’s throat or nose and detects the RNA of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.


Roche CEO Severin Schwan alluded to a high level of interagency collaboration and cooperation during a global press briefing in March 2020,  “we developed [our cobas® SARS-CoV-2 Test] in record time. There would have been no way to develop this so fast without close cooperation with the authorities. In the US, for example, we were working hand in hand with the FDA and within 24 hours, we received emergency authorization to make this test available for patients. This is absolutely unheard of. Under normal circumstances, this would take months.”


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