Top 10 Largest Pharmaceutical Companies

A look at the largest multi-national Big Pharma companies and their posted revenues in 2018.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: We’ve listed the top ten largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and listed their annual growth. Your questions or comments are welcomed at the end.

ESTIMATED READING TIME: Less than 10 minutes.


How Do We Measure the Largest Pharmaceutical Companies?

In our modern age, we’re extremely lucky that we’ve developed cures for diseases that were previously untreated. But we’re also in an age of Big Business…and pharmaceuticals called “Big Pharma” tend to operate not from altruism, but are motivated by the bottom line.

In 2017, the pharmaceutical industry hit its most profitable mark in history at $1.11 trillion. These profits are estimated to rise further in the coming years. This is partly due to the fact that medicines are continuously evolving.  Yet, another reason for this large profit has to do with the ever-growing problem with addiction.

It’s no coincidence that the Opioid Crisis hit its peak in 2017. Further, the CDC reported that more than 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to American patients in 2017. With around 25% of people prescribed Rx pain killer misusing their opioid prescriptions, there’s a rising demand for these drugs. Not only within pharmaceutical companies but also on the illicit market.

The CDC WONDER Report estimates that, on average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

With this in mind, you may be wondering, “What role does Big Pharma play in trends like the Opioid Epidemic?” and “How can we identify the ‘largest’ pharmaceutical companies?”

The easy answer is that we can look first to profit. Those who make more money must experience a measure of business success. Yet, there are certain cases related to sales growth and offshore competition that broaden the net. A large reason for this is the demand for medications isn’t solely in the U.S. We’re noticing countries within Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America developing an increasing demand for pharmaceuticals. It’s possible that ROI is higher offshore. It’s also possible that costs are lower.

It should be noted that not every company on this list solely manufactures prescriptions which have fueled drug addiction. There are plenty of companies whose sole aim is to find cures for specific diseases and their medications don’t always cause a “high”.

As of October 2018, here are the top ten largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

#10 – Amgen

Unlike most of the companies on this list, Amgen only recently became one of the largest pharmaceutical companies. The reason for this has to do with its recent innovations in developing medications which are primarily focused on cardiovascular diseases such as:

  • Bone health
  • Inflammation
  • Nephrology
  • Neurosciences

Within recent years, Amgen has found much success in their products and is considered one of the most admired companies in the pharmaceutical industry. Last year, the company profited with $22.85 billion.

#9 – GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

Located in the United Kingdom, GlaxoSmithKline has been one of the leading pharmaceutical companies for years now. Particularly, due to how it consistently comes up with advanced and original medications.

Though the company offers a variety of different medicinal therapies for various diseases, its primary focus is within:

  • Respiratory
  • Vaccines

Their rise in the economy has much to do with the rise in asthma and their sales with inhalers. With that, GSK has also put much focus towards research in three specific areas of medication which have been approved:

  • A daily HIV pill.
  • Shingrix – medication to treat the shingles virus.
  • Trelegy Ellipta inhaler – to treat COPD and Juluca

With these approvals, GlaxoSmithKline’s profit is expected to rise from the $24 billion it made in 2017.

#8 – Gilead Sciences

The range of medications Gilead Sciences has been able to develop the proper treatment for is astounding:

  • Hepatitis infections
  • HIV/Aids
  • Inflammation
  • Oncology
  • Respiratory
  • Virology

Though it holds similarity to what it treats in comparison to GlaxoSmithKline, the notable difference is its location in California and, therefore, offering easier access to the American public. In 2017, the companies best-selling drug was Harvonis which is used to treat Hepatitis C. They also found success in their medications Truvada to treat and avert HIV and Epclusa, another drug to treat Hepatitis C.

Through gaining approval of further medications being researched, it’s expected their 2017’s $25.65 billion will increase.

#7 – AbbVie

With a recent spike in revenue, the American company, AbbVie, has made this top ten list only in the last two years. The reason for their success has to do with their high research-driven work ethic. Test after test, AbbVie has produced a drug expected to treat atopic dermatitis through their product upadacitinib.

However, their research goes even further with other medications they hope to impact the following fields with:

  • Dermatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Neurology
  • Oncology

Currently, AbbVie’s most popular medications are Humira and Imbruvica, both of which are top picks for doctors trying to treat cancer. With that in mind, it comes to no surprise AbbVie made $28.22 billion back in 2017.

#6 – Novartis

Novartis has made much recent headway but has a strong hold on Switzerland’s pharmaceutical history. It’s one of the top companies which focuses on the following fields:

  • Dermatology
  • Neuroscience
  • Oncology
  • Respiratory

The main reason they’ve reached this high on the list is due to their pharmaceutical sales staying strong. Medications such as Gleevec have been used for numerous oncology diseases whereas the drug Gilenya has helped with a variety of sclerosis complications.

The most notable medication is Cosenty x, a top pick amongst dermatologists, which had an 82% increase in sales according to Novartis’s website. They totaled $33 billion in 2017.

#5 – Merck & Co. (MSD)

Merck can be compared to Novartis in the sense that it has a place in history when it comes to pharmaceuticals. Though the company didn’t boost profits to a great extent these past years, it’s their already developed drugs which keep them in the top 5. These include treatments for the following areas:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Endocrinology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Oncology

The medications of which they’ve had the most success are Keytruda – a cancer immunotherapy – the HPV vaccine Gardasil, and Januvia – a pill for diabetes. Overall, the company earned $35.4 billion in 2017. For a time, Merck’s was the largest pharmaceutical company in the world.

#4 – Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson may just be the most recognizable company name on this list and it’s due to their 130-year history in American households. Their most popular products are:

  • Aveeno
  • Listerine
  • Neutrogena

Due to their history of success, Johnson & Johnson will be on this list for years to come. However, they may even climb higher considering their sales increased this past year by 8.3%. Leaving them a $36.3 billion company.

#3 – Sanofi

There are three reasons Sanofi is the third top pharmaceutical company:

  1. Aubagio – a pill which treats multiple sclerosis.
  2. Lantus – a diabetes insulin injection.
  3. Lovenox – an anticoagulant to avert blood clots.

These three medications were not only their best-selling drugs but also gives the company a quarter of its total profit at $36.66 billion.

#2 – Roche

The innovation at Roche is just what puts it near the top of this list. Thanks to Roche, there’s been great progress in the following areas:

  • Immunology
  • Infectious disease
  • Neuroscience
  • Oncology

Even more so, the company is looking to submit further researched drugs to help with a variety of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and various cancers. Roche totaled in at $44.36 billion in 2017.

#1 – Pfizer

Just as with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer has a strong place in pharmaceutical history. Though their revenue growth from 2017 wasn’t huge, it’s thanks to their research towards a wide span of therapies that makes them the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. These therapies include:

  • Immunology
  • Neurosciences
  • Oncology

In 2017, Pfizer had great success in their FDA approval of a variety of products. Likewise, there were certain products which grew heavily in revenue including:

  • Eliquis
  • Ibrance
  • Xelanz

Overall, Pfizer earned a total of $52.54 billion in 2017.

What Pharmaceutical Medications Should You Be Aware Of?

Pharmaceuticals are vital for us to understand and treat both physical and mental health. Thanks to the companies above, modern medicine has progressed in a way which seemed unfathomable years ago. Yet, where there’s an upside, there’s also a bad.

Not all pharmaceutical medication is safe. In fact, there are many out there was hold high probability for causing a drug addiction. This is when an individual retracts a chronic diseased in which they seek out drugs compulsively and find it difficult to control themselves despite negative consequences. Though not everyone is prone to addiction, it’s important to be aware of the pharmaceutical medications which can cause one.

These include, but aren’t limited to:

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants such as:

  • Ativan
  • Xanax
  • Valium

Opioids used for pain treatment such as:

  • Morphine
  • Oxycontin
  • Percocet
  • Vicodin

Stimulants (amphetamines) such as:

  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Daytrana
  • Methylin
  • Ritalin

If you or someone you love is prescribed these drugs, it’s vital you only take the dosage the doctor recommends. People who misuse prescriptions often take more than this dosage at more frequent intervals.

Your Questions

If you have any further questions pertaining to pharmaceutical companies, we invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on this topic, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to reply to each comment in a prompt and personal manner.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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