Pharmaceutical firms saw mixed year in 2016

Sales rose for most U.S. firms, fell at three of Europe’s big drug makers

Ann M. Thayer

Although overall sales expanded in 2016 for the top 10 drug companies, they were clearly split between those that grew and those that didn’t. With four of them seeing sales declines, the ranking got shuffled.

Fortunes were divided to some extent along geographic lines. Europe-based AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Sanofi all reported lower sales—the impact of patent expirations on their major small-molecule drugs.

In the near future, patent expirations will create competition for many top biologic products as well. But for now, Switzerland’s Roche posted higher sales on the strength of its biologics, as did AbbVie from its monoclonal antibody Humira. In contrast, reliance on the hepatitis C drug Harvoni, which had slowing sales, brought down Gilead Sciences’ numbers.

England-based GlaxoSmithKline had the biggest sales gains, but it came through prior business deals with Novartis in the vaccines and consumer health areas rather than improved sales of its medicines. Similarly, Pfizer’s rise in sales was largely the result of acquisitions.

Top 10 drug companies

Tough year for most European firms shuffled the ranking.

2016 2015 Company 2016 Sales
($ Billions)
% Change
From 2015
1 1 Johnson & Johnson 71.9 3
2 3 Pfizer 52.5 7
3 4 Roche 51.5 6
4 2 Novartis 48.2 -2
5 6 Merck & Co. 40.0 1
6 5 Sanofi 37.5 -1
7 7 GlaxoSmithKline 35.0 15
8 8 Gilead Sciences 31.0 -5
9 10 AbbVie 25.0 9
10 9 AstraZeneca 23.2 -6

Note: Estimated sales are based on company statements and C&EN calculations.

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