Top 10 Global Pharma Companies 2021


Pfizer’s record-breaking year set the stage for a sound financial year for Big Pharma’s top ten, whose revenue grew on average 19.8 percent in 2021. Posting sales of over USD 80 billion, Pfizer pulled away from second placed Roche and is aiming to break the USD 100 billion barrier in 2022. Abbvie, MSD and Johnson & Johnson also posted double digit growth, while GSK’s remained flat. 


Take a look at the top 10 pharmaceutical companies by 2021 revenue and the main developments that led them there.


1. Pfizer

Revenue: USD 81.3 billion

HQ: New York, United States

CEO & Chairman: Albert Bourla

Notable development: Covid-19 vaccines and treatments

(Link to latest financial results)

The American giant had a record year driven by its successful Covid-19 vaccine (Cominarty) and treatment (Paxlovid), which together accounted for nearly half of its operational revenue. Not satisfied, the company is aiming to become the first one to break the USD 100 billion barrier in yearly revenue in 2022.

“We put billions of dollars of capital on the line in pursuit of those goals, not knowing whether those investments would ever pay off. Now, less than two years since we made that commitment, we are proud to say that we have delivered,” said CEO Albert Bourla.

Although Pfizer announced it initiated 13 “pivotal” clinical studies during 2021, R&D investment did not keep up with its skyrocketing revenue, barely increasing from the previous year from USD 8.9 to USD 10.5 billion. Nevertheless, the company expects to remain a growth company between 2025-2030, among other things, because of “durable Covid-19 revenues.”


2. Roche

Revenue: CHF 62.8 billion (approx. USD 68.1 USD)

HQ: Basel, Switzerland

CEO: Dr Severin Schwan

Notable development: repurchased one third of its shares from Novartis

(Link to latest financial results)

Following Pfizer’s path, Roche took a boost from Covid-19 solutions but mostly in diagnostics. “Despite all the success,” warned CEO Severin Schwan, there is still a great need for better therapies in areas such as cancer, dementia and infections, “far beyond Covid-19.”

Two moments marked the Swiss giant’s year more than anything else, one strategic–even symbolic– and a breakthrough product approval.

Calling it a “disentanglement of two competitors,” Roche agreed to repurchase one third of its shares from Novartis, which held them for the last 20 years. Portfolio-wise, Tecentriq (atezolizumab) became the first cancer immunotherapy for people with early-stage lung cancer to be approved.


3. Abbvie

Revenue: USD 56.1 billion

HQ: Lake Bluff, Illinois, United States

CEO & Chairman: Richard A. Gonzalez

Notable development: Humira remained a blockbuster in the US, but fell abroad due to biosimilar competition

(Link to latest financial results)

Abbvie’s immunology portfolio led the way with USD 25.2 billion globally, an increase of 14 percent. Humira (adalimumab) exemplifies the disconnect between how the company operates in the US and international markets; the product brought in USD 17 billion from US sales, increasing slightly from the previous year, but saw a significant drop in the resto of the world with USD 3.3 billion “due to biosimilar competition.”

The mid-term future of Abbvie’s portfolio will rely on two newly approved products, Skyrizi (risankizumab for atopic dermatitis, developed in collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim) and Rinvoq (upadacitinib for psoriatic arthritis). The Illinois-based company expects each asset to deliver sales above USD 7.5 billion in 2025.


4. Johnson & Johnson (Janssen)

Revenue: USD 52.1 billion (pharma sales only)

HQ: New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States

CEO: Joaquin Duato

Notable development: Will split into two companies, spinning off its consumer health division

(Link to latest financial results)

One of only two US-based companies with a AAA credit rating, higher than that of the US government in Standard & Poor’s list, Johnson & Johnson ended 2021 with a major announcement: it will split into two companies, separating consumer products and pharmaceutical businesses.

J&J’s pharma business faced a similar situation to Abbvie; immunology led the way with USD 16.7 billion, closely followed by oncology, and is losing ground for a star product, Remicade, due to biosimilars competition. Consumer health, the division about to be spun off, is facing significant legal challenges related to claims that its baby powder and other talc-based products caused cancer.


5. Novartis

Revenue: USD 51.6 billion

HQ: Basel, Switzerland

CEO: Dr Vasant Narasimhan

Notable developments: Sold its shares in Roche and initiated a “strategic review” to spin-off Sandoz

(Link to latest financial results)

The other Basel giant received 21 approvals in the US, the EU, Japan and China, including two new molecular entities in 2021. “We have a promising mid- and late-stage portfolio, with more than 20 assets with expected approval by 2026 that each have sales potential over USD 1 billion,” said CEO Vasant Narasimhan.

Overall, Novartis’ revenue grew 6 percent compares to the previous year. Since it separates oncology from the rest of pharmaceuticals, their 2021 annual report showed that oncology failed to keep up with the rest. “Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolism” were the fastest growing category for the group with a 43 percent increase.


6. Bayer

Revenue: €43 billion* (approx. USD 48.9 billion)

HQ: Leverkusen, Germany

CEO: Werner Baumann

Notable development: Crop Science posted a significant increase in volumes and prices, remains locked in a legal battle

(Link to latest financial results)

* Forecast by the company after Q3/2021 results were published. Q4/2021 annual report will be published March 01, 2022

After a challenging 2020, and with more hurdles in sight, Bayer has been on an investment spree with a USD 2 billion acquisition of a San Diego-based biotech and manufacturing sites in Latin America and Norway. Bayer is yet to publish its 2021 financial results but grew 5 percent during the first nine months of the year.

The Crop Science division continues to be the company’s top business (bringing in EUR 18,840 million in 2020), it is also its main headache. When Bayer bought Monsanto, the American agrochemical and agricultural biotech, three years ago for a whopping USD 63 billion in cash, it also acquired a legal battle that is expected to cost USD 9.6 billion.


7. Merck (Merck Sharp & Dohme)

Revenue: USD 48.7 billion

HQ: Kenilworth, New Jersey, United States

CEO: Robert M. Davis

Notable development: Received approval for molnupiravir, its oral antiviral treatment for Covid-19

(Link to latest financial results)

MSD mentioned the advancement of its broad pipeline, the acquisition of Acceleron Pharma and authorization of monlupiravir, its oral antiviral for Covid-19, as the highlights of 2021. Developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, monlupiravir brought in USD 952 million in the fourth quarter of the year.

“We enter 2022 with strong momentum and are moving with speed to bring forward innovations,” said CEO Robert Davis. MSD is anticipating more than 90 potential new indications by 2028, including “notable” progress for Keytruda, the company’s anti-PD-1 therapy that sold USD 17.2 billion in 2021.


8. Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS)

Revenue: USD 46.4 billion

HQ: New York, United States

CEO: Dr Giovanni Caforio

Notable development: Its blood-thinner medication Eliquis grew 17 percent, reaching USD 10.7 billion in sales

(Link to latest financial results)

“2021 was a pivotal year for our company as we achieved significant regulatory and clinical milestones and positioned the company to successfully renew our portfolio,” said Giovanni Caforio, CEO, in a press release. After a successful year for Eliquis (blood-thinner medication), BMS now has two USD 10+ billion-dollar blockbusters.


9. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

Revenue: £34 billion (approx. USD 46.1 USD)

HQ: London, United Kingdom

CEO: Emma Walmsley

Notable developments: Sold USD 1.9 billion in covid-related products, refused a £50 billion offer from Unilever for its consumer health unit

(Link to latest financial results)

GSK’s sotrovimab, developed with Vir Biotechnology, is one of the few Covid-19 treatments shown to have worked against the Omicron variant. It was amongst the company’s top selling offerings in 2021, according to Reuters, who also reported that GSK is “pressing on with the spin off of its consumer arm, home to brands such as Sensodyne toothpaste and Advil painkiller, after turning down Unilever’s 50 billion pound buyout offer for the unit in December.”

Speaking about expectations for 2020, CEO Emma Walmsley ventured that “this is going to be a landmark year for GSK, with a step-change in growth expected and multiple R&D catalysts, including milestones on up to 7 key late-stage pipeline assets. 2022 is also the year when we demerge our world-leading Consumer Healthcare business.”


10. Sanofi

Revenue: €37.7 billion (approx. USD 42.9 USD)

HQ: Paris, France

CEO: Paul Hudson

Notable development: Specialty care became the largest business unit for the first time

(Link to latest financial results)

Expecting to complete phase III trial of its Covid-19 vaccine soon, the French company started 2022 with a branding overhaul. In 2021, Sanofi obtained 8 “major” approvals in the US and EU for Dupixent, Libtayo, Sarclisa, Nexviazyme, and strengthened its early pipeline with 36 projects in phases I-II. For the first time ever, the specialty care business unit became the largest one by sales, almost doubling vaccines.

“Sanofi has closed 2021 with a strong performance in the fourth quarter driven by high double-digit sales growth of Dupixent®, which continues to set impressive record sales quarter after quarter. This quarter marks the first time Specialty Care has led our GBUs by sales, highlighting a significant milestone in our transformation,” said CEO Paul Hudson.

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