Still, the leading pharmaceutical companies come from the United States and Europe. Based on prescription sales, NYC-based Pfizer is the world’s largest pharmaceutical company. In 2018, the company generated some 53.6 billion U.S. dollars in pure pharmaceutical sales. Other top global players from the United States include Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., and AbbVie. Novartis and Roche from Switzerland, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca from the United Kingdom, and French Sanofi are the European big five.
Branded, patented medicines by far make up the largest share of pharmaceutical revenues. Humira, an anti-inflammatory drug, generated some 20 billion U.S. dollars of revenue worldwide in 2018. Oncologics continue to be the leading therapeutic class based on revenue. In 2018, cancer drugs made nearly 100 billion U.S. dollars of revenue globally. Other major therapy classes were respiratory drugs and antidiabetics.
More than any other industry, the pharmaceutical sector is highly dependent on its research and development segment. Some pharmaceutical companies invest 20 percent and more of their revenues in R&D measures. This share can be significantly higher at small, research-specialized companies. The United States is a traditional stronghold of pharmaceutical innovation. The origin of most new substances introduced to the market can be traced back to the United States. Because of the steady loss of patent protection, the invention of new drugs is of vital importance for the pharmaceutical industry. Revenue losses due to patent expiry often are very significant, as can be seen with Pfizer’s Lipitor from 2012 on.