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.
Revenue: USD 81.3 billion
HQ: New York, United States
CEO & Chairman: Albert Bourla
Notable development: Covid-19 vaccines and treatments
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.”
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
* 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
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
“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
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.”
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
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.