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The top 15 pharma companies by 2018 revenue


Together, the top 15 drugmakers by 2018 revenue generated $560 billion in 2018. (Pixabay)

The pharma industry is always in flux, but the big names always turn up near the top of yearly sales rankings. This year is no different, with Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer, Novartis and Merck & Co. taking the top 5 spots in Big Pharma companies by 2018 sales. 

In fact, the top 15 names are the same against prior year rankings, but the order has shifted. Last year’s No. 5, Sanofi, slipped to No. 7 as its sales sank almost 2% year over year. Gilead Sciences, famously under hepatitis C pricing pressure for years, sank even farther in 2018, slipping three positions to No. 13. 

On the flip side, Bristol-Myers Squibb climbed from No. 15 to No. 12. And if the company scores its massive Celgene buyout, it’ll be even higher next year. Adding Celgene’s $15 billion in 2018 revenue would have given BMS nearly $38 billion in annual sales, ranking it among the top 10 pharma companies by annual sales 

And next year’s ranking will see at least one entirely new entrant in Takeda. The Japanese biopharma recently scooped up Shire but hasn’t released its combined financials for 2018 to make it eligible for the rankings. 

Many companies on this list have faced big patent losses in recent years, while some have big launches coming up, too. Amgen and Johnson & Johnson saw their first copycat competition for anemia drugs Procrit and Epogen last year, while Amgen also had to face off against Neulasta biosims.

Looking ahead, several of these top companies will be working on blockbuster launches. Market watchers believe AbbVie, which markets the world’s top drug, Humira, will win approval for rheumatoid arthritis drug upadacitinib this year. Analysts predict the drug will generate $2.24 billion by 2024, a much-needed boost as megablockbuster Humira starts facing biosims in 2023. Novartis, AstraZeneca and other drugmakers have blockbuster launches slated for 2019 as well.

For these rankings and company profiles, FiercePharma consulted company earnings reports, securities filings, earnings transcripts and analyst reports, plus our own archives. We segregated Bayer’s crop sciences unit as too far removed from human or animal health but included healthcare businesses at other top drugmakers, such as J&J’s medical devices and Roche’s diagnostics divisions. 

We converted 2018 results to U.S. dollars using average exchange rates for the year provided by drugmakers. Average conversion rates for the year were 1 Swiss franc to $0.98 USD, £1 to $1.33 and €1 to $1.18.

Boehringer Ingelheim might have generated enough sales last year to make the list, but the company doesn’t report until April 17. We’ll update the report after Boehringer releases 2018 results.

Beyond their individual challenges, these top-ranked companies saw plenty of shared changes and setbacks last year. The Trump administration rolled out numerous drug pricing measures and proposals, some favored by the industry and others hated. In one big setback, last year Congress boosted their share of responsibility in Medicare Part D’s “doughnut hole.” The change could cost some companies hundreds of millions of dollars, or even billions, each year. But drugmakers support the administration’s proposal to shake up rebates in Medicare and Medicaid. 

Overall, the industry garnered approvals for 59 novel drugs last year, setting a record, according to the FDA. Among them were the pharma industry’s first cannabinoid-derived drug, Epidiolex from GW Pharma, and several new CGRP migraine prevention drugs. Amgen and Novartis, Teva and Eli Lilly are working to build that new class. 

Drugmakers face some big question marks in 2019. With Democrats in control of the U.S. House, lawmakers have already called top CEOs on the carpet to explain their drug pricing, and numerous bills aimed at cutting drug costs are in the offing.

And perhaps more importantly, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., will be handing over the reins. It remains to be seen who the Trump administration will tap to run the agency and just how active that new chief might be. During his time at the FDA, Gottlieb garnered an industry-friendly reputation, instituted new programs and guidelines across the board, and worked hard to fight high drug costs.