It is no secret that the pharmaceutical industry is massively profitable around the globe. It is called “Big Pharma” for a reason. But how profitable is the pharmaceutical industry? The revenue of the worldwide pharmaceutical market in 2022 reached a colossal $1.4 trillion! The team at NYRequirements has done a deeper dive into the data, analyzing Big Pharma profits to find which pharmaceutical companies make the most money. Here are the 30 most profitable pharmaceutical companies worldwide ranked by their profit per second in 2022:
What Is the Most Profitable Pharmaceutical Company in the World?
The most profitable pharmaceutical company in the world in terms of profit per second is Pfizer, which raked in $31.37 billion in 2022. That’s $994.80 per second! A fair chunk of that likely came from the company’s COVID-19 vaccine as well as Paxlovid, an antiviral pill used to treat COVID-19.
Here are the top 20 largest pharma companies in the world by annual profit and profit per second:
1. Pfizer — $31.37 billion ($994.80 per second)
2. Johnson & Johnson — $17.94 billion ($568.91 per second)
3. Merck — $14.52 billion ($460.39 per second)
4. Roche — $13.00 billion ($412.23 per second)
5. AbbVie — $11.84 billion ($375.32 per second)
6. BioNTech — $10.34 billion ($327.91 per second)
7. Sanofi — $8.80 billion ($279.05 per second)
8. Novo Nordisk — $8.80 billion ($269.53 per second)
9. Moderna — $8.36 billion ($265.16 per second)
10. Novartis — $7 billion ($221.97 per second)
11. Amgen — $6.55 billion ($207.76 per second)
12. Bristol-Myers Squibb — $6.33 billion ($200.63 per second)
13. Eli Lilly — $6.25 billion ($198.03 per second)
14. Abbott — $5.80 billion ($183.92 per second)
15. GSK — $5.30 billion ($168.06 per second)
16. AstraZeneca — $4.70 billion ($149.04 per second)
17. Gilead Sciences — $4.59 billion ($145.61 per second)
18. Bayer — $4.40 billion ($139.52 per second)
19. Regeneron — $4.34 billion ($137.56 per second)
20. Merck KgaA — $$3.50 billion ($110.98 per second)
Why Do Pharmaceutical Companies Make So Much Money?
CorporateWatch.org provides five key reasons why Big Pharma is so profitable:
Focusing on the Most Profitable Drugs
Pharmaceutical companies tend to channel resources into drugs that will be the most profitable, such as those used to treat common, chronic conditions (or addictive drugs like opioids). This ensures that the demand is always high. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine research was relatively neglected, despite poorer countries still being affected by vaccine-preventable diseases. But COVID-19 became an issue in wealthy countries, which spurred an influx of government funding.
Patents That Prevent Competitive Marketing
Pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on patents to protect their profits.
What Is a Drug Patent?
A drug patent is legal protection that a pharmaceutical company obtains for their drug creations. These drug patents prevent other companies from manufacturing and selling the drugs, which creates monopolies on particular drugs. With no competition, companies can set high prices and reap huge profits.
How Long Do Drug Patents Last in the U.S.?
Drug patents are valid for 20 years after the drug’s invention, meaning that drugs can stay at these high prices with no relief in sight for many years.
For an example of how patents can be profitable, look at Humira, a patented drug owned by AbbVie. Humira is an immunosuppressive drug used to treat arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and other autoimmune diseases. It is vital to the health of more than 1.4 million people worldwide. Yet Humira can cost up to $8,000 per kit, and a kit only lasts for two weeks!
Why Is Humira So Expensive?
Humira’s exclusivity is protected by at least 132 patents. This prevents competition, allowing the price to spiral out of control. But AbbVie finally agreed to allow other companies to release their own versions in 2023, so hopefully, lower prices are on the horizon.
Massive Profit Margins
Often, drugs are priced much higher than the cost to make them. The main U.S. pharmaceutical industry lobby group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PHRMA), states: “On average, it takes 10-15 years and costs $2.6 billion to develop one new medicine, including the cost of the many failures.” Drug companies spend about 20% of sales revenue on research and development, which is more than many other industries spend. However, once a drug hits the market, it is often cheap to produce. For example, insulin costs about $6 a vial to make, yet it sells for as much as $275 in the United States. An academic study by the University of Southern California’s Leonoard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics found that the gross profit margin of pharma companies in the U.S. was 71%, so the excuse of high research and development costs is questionable.
Big pharma companies tend to only pour funding into drugs that have already been established as viable. An analysis by STAT, a news publication focused on health and medicine, found that Pfizer only developed ten out of its 44 best-selling drugs in house and Johnson & Johnson only developed two out of its 18 best-sellers. The preliminary research on new drugs happens mainly in university and government labs or at smaller research companies. A lot of it is funded by the government as well: The National Institutes of Health give around $40 billion a year to universities, medical schools, and other research organizations. Once a drug has been proven through initial tests, big pharmaceutical companies step in to purchase the license (or the entire company).
Big pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. spend more on lobbying than any other industry does — almost twice as much as the second-highest-spending industry (insurance).
How Much Does Big Pharma Spend on Lobbying?
In 2022, big pharmaceutical companies spent more than $372 million on federal lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org. The pharmaceutical industry has more than 1,450 lobbyists, 66% of whom are former government employees. The U.S. also has the highest drug prices in the world. Coincidence?
As showcased by our list, most of the biggest pharmaceutical countries in the world are located in the United States as well. While there is no doubt that the drugs created by these companies have saved countless lives, there have also been countless more who are unable to afford what they need due to unchecked prices.
What Percentage of Americans Cannot Afford Their Medication?
According to a poll conducted by KFF, about three in 10 Americans have not taken their medication due to its cost. A study conducted by Gallup and West Health found that 13% of American adults, or 34 million people, report at least one friend or family member passing away in the past five years due to being unable to afford medical treatment.
|Rank||Company||Profit1||Profit per Second||Country|
|1||Pfizer||$31.37 billion||$994.80||United States|
|2||Johnson & Johnson||$17.94 billion||$568.91||United States|
|3||Merck||$14.52 billion||$460.39||United States|
|5||AbbVie||$11.84 billion||$375.32||United States|
|8||Novo Nordisk||$8.50 billion||$269.53||Denmark|
|9||Moderna||$8.36 billion||$265.16||United States|
|11||Amgen||$6.55 billion||$207.76||United States|
|12||Bristol-Myers Squibb||$6.33 billion||$200.63||United States|
|13||Eli Lilly||$6.25 billion||$198.03||United States|
|14||Abbott||$5.80 billion||$183.92||United States|
|15||GSK||$5.30 billion||$168.06||United Kingdom|
|16||AstraZeneca||$4.70 billion||$149.04||United Kingdom|
|17||Gilead Sciences||$4.59 billion||$145.61||United States|
|19||Regeneron Pharmaceuticals||$4.34 billion||$137.56||United States|
|20||Merck KGaA||$3.50 billion||$110.98||Germany|
|21||Boehringer Ingelheim3||$3.49 billion||$110.64||Germany|
|22||Vertex Pharmaceuticals||$3.32 billion||$105.34||United States|
|23||Biogen||$3.05 billion||$96.62||United States|
|25||Zoetis||$2.11 billion||$67.04||United States|
|26||Takeda Pharmaceutical||$2.10 billion||$66.59||Japan|
|27||Viatris||$2.08 billion||$65.93||United States|
|28||Otsuka Holdings||$1.02 billion||$32.34||Japan|
|29||Organon||$91.70 million||$29.08||United States|
|30||Daiichi Sankyo||$80.50 million||$25.53||Japan|
1 Data is most recent annual profit figures available from Fortune or Forbes as of Aug. 3, 2023, unless otherwise noted
2 Most recent data for BioNTech is for full year 2022 via BioNTech
3 Most recent data for Boehringer Ingelheim is for full year 2021 via Fortune Global 500