COVID-19 vaccines and treatments continue to make headline news and bring in huge revenues for sponsor companies, but Pharma Exec’s 2022 Top 50 Companies ranking suggests that many non-COVID products are once more driving big gains. Against the backdrop of an increasingly fraught geopolitical climate and patent landscape, the next year should offer even more clarity as to the true winners of this challenging period.


1. Pfizer

2021 position: 1

Rx Sales: USD 72.043 billion

R&D Spend: USD 13.829 billion

Consolidating its 2021 position as the world’s biggest pharma company, Pfizer again had a stellar year and stands – along with fellow mRNA COVID vaccine developer Moderna – as one of the pandemic’s biggest winners.

The New York-based firm recorded overall prescription drug sales of USD 72 billion, 37 billion of which was generated by its COVID vaccine Comirnaty – developed in partnership with BioNTech – alone. This makes Cominarty the best-selling drug in a single year of all time by a huge margin. With uptake still high, the vaccine’s sales are already comparable with the cumulative lifetime sales of many blockbuster medicines.


2. AbbVie

2021 position: 3

Rx Sales: USD 55.041 billion

R&D Spend: USD 6.518 billion

Climbing one position in 2022, Chicago-headquartered AbbVie saw a USD 11 billion boost in sales last year, primarily driven by its flagship Humira drug.

While Humira’s sales have plummeted in Europe due to the entry of biosimilar competition into the market, analysts are not predicting a similar drop in the US where AbbVie has been highly litigious against firms attempting to bring copycat products to market. This is accompanied by a reimbursement structure more favourable for originator drugs, as well as US doctors being more reluctant to substitute biosimilars for branded products.

AbbVie is expected to become the world’s biggest pharma company in terms of Rx sales by 2028.


3. Novartis

2021 position: 5

Rx Sales: USD 51.128 billion

R&D Spend: USD 9.041 billion

Basel-based Novartis has had a momentous few months. In April, the firm announced a major restructuring, combining its pharma and oncology units and aiming to create a more simplified operational setup to boost its positioning in the US market. Additionally, Novartis recently announced the divestment of its underperforming generics arm Sandoz.

Novartis climbed two places last year up to third position, with sales in excess of USD 51 billion. Quarterly sales for its heart drug Entresto rose 42 percent to USD 1.1 billion.


4. J&J

2021 position: 4

Rx Sales: USD 49.821 billion

R&D Spend: USD 11.781 billion

While maintaining its fourth position on the global list, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) saw a 15.5 percent increase in global Rx sales, with its one-shot COVID vaccine – marketed by its Janssen unit – brought in sales of USD 2.39 billion.

The company, which is facing some notable patent expirations in the coming few years, has announced a plan to spin off its consumer healthcare business in 2023.


5. Roche

2021 position: 2

Rx Sales: USD 49.293 billion

R&D Spend: USD 13.080 billion

One of the 2022 lists big fallers, Swiss giant Roche drops from second position to fifth, although it did post 3.8 percent growth on the previous year.

Having been the list’s biggest R&D spender in the past two years, Roche’s USD 13.1 billion spend last year trails only Pfizer’s $13.8 billion. Additionally, Roche is projected to be the globe’s second biggest company by Rx sales by 2028.


6. BMS

2021 position: 8

Rx Sales: USD 45.669 billion

R&D Spend: USD 9.531 billion

New York’s Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) climbed two places last year – from eighth to sixth – but faces patent expiry pressure on some key products in the coming years. These include Revlimid (formerly a Celgene product) this year, Eliquis in 2026, and cancer PD-1 immunotherapy Opdivo in 2028.


7. Merck & Co. (MSD)

2021 position: 7

Rx Sales: USD 43.259 billion

R&D Spend: USD 12.245 billion

Another firm facing patent expiries on key products is Merck & Co. (MSD internationally). For example, the firm’s PD-1 blockbuster Keytruda achieved USD 17.2 billion in Rx sales in 2021 and has amassed numerous indications but will lose patent exclusivity in 2028.

MSD had a difficult 2020/2021, with the shelving of its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, but pivoted to developing treatments to the disease. This was accompanied by the retirement of long-serving CEO Kenneth Frazier after almost 30 years at the company.


8. Sanofi

2021 position: 10

Rx Sales: USD 38.934 billion

R&D Spend: USD 6.150 billion

Up two places from last year, French heavyweight Sanofi – which still has its own COVID-19 vaccine candidate in development and hopes to bring it to market in the next 12 months – has been on a spending spree in recent years, hoovering up 14 companies in the last 24 months. Additionally, the firm is in the middle of a restructuring process aimed at pruning its general medicine pipeline.


9. AstraZeneca

2021 position: 11

Rx Sales: USD 36.131 billion

R&D Spend: USD 7.987 billion

Re-entering the Top 10 is Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca. AZ was of the early winners of the race to develop COVID vaccines although its Vaxzeveria has since been usurped by the mRNA products developed by the likes of Pfizer and Moderna. However, Vaxzevria reached USD four billion in sales last year, catapulting the company to a 41.5 percent increase in Rx sales.


10. GSK

2021 position: 9

Rx Sales: USD 33.443 billion

R&D Spend: USD 6.573 billion

Another British firm, GSK, rounds out the Top 10, down one position on the previous year.

CEO Emma Walmsley decreed that the spinoff of GSK’s consumer healthcare business – newly named Haleon – represents “the most significant corporate change for GSK in 20 years: creating two new, exceptional companies with ambitious targets for growth and with a clear purpose to positively impact the health and lives of billions of people.”

A recent USD 3.3 billion deal for clinical-stage biopharma Affinivax will add novel pneumococcal vaccine candidates to GSK’s pipeline and support the development of its vaccines and specialty drugs. GSK’s adjuvant technology has already been utilised in several COVID vaccines.