The role of the pharmaceutical industry in our world is extremely important, as it develops and provides us with medicines that help us feel better and treat ailments. Thanks to this industry, humanity has become healthier. Despite the advancements in our healthcare, diseases are increasing, especially in present times, where we have deadly viruses wreaking havoc in the world. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that pharmaceuticals have become a $500 billion industry. Here are the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson ranks first year after year on the global list of pharmaceutical companies. It was founded by the Johnson family in 1886; however, its founders were in the pharmaceutical industry years before the inception of Johnson & Johnson. As the American Civil War began in 1861, two elder sons of the Johnson family were drafted into the Union Army; however, Robert Wood Johnson, the middle child, was too young for the army at the time. Instead, he was given an apprenticeship at his cousin’s pharmacy, Wood & Tittamer, in New York. After gaining appropriate experience, Robert Wood Johnson, along with George Seabury, established Seabury & Johnson, a company that produced medicated plasters. These plasters came with adhesives, and these were primarily used for relieving pain and inflammation. Following this, two events inspired Robert Wood Johnson to establish his company; learning about sterile surgery at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and the implementation of electricity in industries in the 1880s. Seeing the business opportunity, Robert Wood Johnson dissolved his partnership with George Seabury. Finally, along with his two younger brothers, James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson established Johnson & Johnson in 1886 in New Jersey. Moreover, it was this company that made cotton white and absorbent. Primarily, it sold sterile tools and antiseptics, along with cotton. Since then, Johnson & Johnson produced many medical items catering to different needs, and in turn, became the pharmaceutical giant it is today, which comes as a surprise since it only had 14 employees in its early days. Presently, it generates $60 billion annually.
Headquarters: New Brunswick, New Jersey
Popular Products: Johnson’s Baby Powder and Band-Aid
While Pfizer is an American pharmaceutical company, it was established by two German cousins, Charles Pfizer and Charles F. Erhart, in 1849. These two had migrated from Ludwigsburg to New York in 1848, and they established their business of producing santonin, an anti-parasitic, in a red-bricked building, a typical industrial design for the 1800s. After two decades of business, Pfizer was growing, and to make room for 150 new employees, the headquarters was shifted to Manhattan in a post-revolutionary era building. Seeing their profits, Pfizer decided to open a new branch in Chicago. It was opened by John Anderson in 1914, and interestingly, he joined Pfizer as an office boy in 1873. A huge leap forward in terms of finances for Pfizer came when it started the production of citric acid in 1919. During the time, a pound of citric acid was roughly $1.25, but thanks to the fermentation technology, Pfizer dropped the price to ¢20. As the first World War broke out, Pfizer began the production of a crucial antibiotic that helped the soldiers tremendously, i.e., penicillin. Interestingly, Pfizer’s management was skeptical if they should invest their assets into purchasing equipment required for the production of penicillin. By 1944, Pfizer became the largest producer of penicillin. In the 1950s, Pfizer decided to expand its business globally, and it started operating in Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, England, and Brazil. Since then, Pfizer has expanded exponentially, and it is presently conducting business in over 150 countries. Moreover, it is still one of the most financially successful pharmaceuticals, as it made $81 billion in 2021.
Headquarters: New York City, New York
Popular Products: Viagra, Zoloft, and Lipitor
Formally known as F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG was founded by Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche in 1896. Interestingly, it was not his first company, as he already had a company by the name Hoffmann, Traub & Co in Basel. In the first year, Roche released its first patented publication, in which a link between thyroid and iodine was explained by two chemists, Carl Schaerges and Emil C. Barell. In the same year, Roche also launched an antiseptic ointment. The primary market for Roche was Germany, and unsurprisingly, it expanded its business to Germany by opening a manufacturing plant in Grenzach. Following this in 1898, Roche introduced one of its best-selling products, Sirol, an orange-colored cough syrup. Another successful medicine produced by Roche was Digalen, an analgesic that was made with the help of Dr. Max Cloëtta in 1904. In 1920, Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche passed away due to a kidney infection, and this led the company to produce synthetic vitamins. With an aggressive approach to the production of synthetic vitamins, Roche was able to expand to the United States. Since then, Roche has always committed itself to revolutionizing healthcare by producing diagnostics, cancer treatments, and more. Presently, Roche is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and its annual revenue sits anywhere from $48 to $50 billion.
Headquarters: Basel, Switzerland
Popular Products: Cobas e602 and Accu-Chek Aviva Connect
Novartis was established through the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz in 1996. Interestingly, one of the parent companies is over 250 years old. Johann Rudolf Geigy-Gemuseus established Geigy, which produced dyes, chemical materials, and drugs in 1758. Sandoz Pharmaceuticals was founded by Dr. Alfred Kern and Edouard Sandoz in 1886. A third company, Ciba, which merged with Geigy in 1970, was also a pharmaceutical company. In 2002, Novartis established its research department under the name of Biotech Medical Research in the United States. Although it operates globally, the majority of its sales are in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. It specializes in the production of generic medicines and eye care products. Novartis is also one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world. In 2020, Novartis generated a revenue of $47 billion.
Headquarters: Basel, Switzerland
Popular Products: Zolgensma and Gilenya
Merck & Co.
The company started life as a pharmacy in 1668 when Friedrich Jacob Merck purchased a drug store in Darmstadt. Although there are no historical mentions as to when this happened, the Merck family decided to migrate to the United States. After arriving in the US, they established a drugstore in New York. It was not until 1891 that George Merck decided to transition from selling drugs to manufacturing them, and the name of the company was decided as Merck & Co. Interestingly, the Merck family had saved nearly $200,000 from the drugstore. Initially, the company started producing specific active pharmaceutical ingredients to be sold in New York City and the neighboring areas. While Merck & Co. isn’t the first pharmaceutical company to produce synthetic vitamins, it was the first company in the United States to mass-produce them, especially vitamin B1, which led them to become one of the most successful pharmaceutical companies in the mid-1900s. During the same period, people were experiencing trichinosis, an infectious disease caused by ingesting raw or undercooked meat. Dr. William Campbell, the research team leader at Merck & Co. discovered thiabendazole that resulted in the killing of the parasite that caused the infection. Merck & Co. had always put a huge emphasis on their research and development division. Presently, it is similar in terms of financial success to Novartis.
Headquarters: Kenilworth, New Jersey
Popular Product: Keytruda
One of the most recognized pharmaceutical brands also began life as a pharmacy under the name of Plough Court Pharmacy. Silvanus Bevan, an apothecary, opened a drug store in London in 1715. After nearly a decade of successful business, Silvanus needed an assistant at his shop, and he hired William Allen, as a clerk in 1792. Later, William Allen became a partner in the pharmacy in 1795. In 1810, William Allen’s two nephews, the Hanbury brothers, joined the pharmacy, and its name was changed to Allen & Hanburys. It was later acquired by Glaxo Laboratories. In 1830, a drugstore by the name of Smith & Gilbert was opened in the United States by Gilbert and John K. Smith; however, Gilbert parted from the business shortly afterward. By 1870, the company was managed by John’s nephew Mahlon Smith, along with Mahlon Kline, a bookkeeper. In 1891, a French company, Richard & Co. acquired this drugstore and named it Smith Kline. Finally, a century later in 2000, Glaxo and SmithKline decided to merge, resulting in one of the pharmaceutical heavyweights, GlaxoSmithKline. Presently, GSK produces generic medicines, prescription drugs, and vaccines. On average, it generates $45 billion annually.
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom
Popular Products: Triumeq, Advai, and Tivicay
AbbVie is a multinational pharmacy that produces immunology, oncology, neuroscience, eye care, and gastroenterology products. Whereas other companies are over a century old, AbbVie was only incorporated in 2013. AbbVie was established as a new company once Abbott Laboratories decided to split its manufacturing and marketing division. Interestingly, AbbVie is more successful than the parent company, as it made $56 billion in 2021 compared to $43 billion made by Abbott in the same year. Presently, over 48,000 employees are working for AbbVie and it conducts business in 170 countries. Also, in 2018, one of its products for myeloid leukemia was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Headquarters: North Chicago, Illinois
Popular Products: Humira, Imbruvica, and Mavyret
Also known as Sanofi S.A. is a French pharmaceutical company that produces medicines for a wide range of conditions, including cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. This company was founded in 1973. It was established when Elf Aquitate acquired Labaz Group of pharmaceuticals. In 1992, Sanofi expanded its business to the United States after being successful in Eastern Europe. Another merger happened in 1999 between Sanofi and Synthélabo. Finally, Sanofi S.A. was established after the merger of Sanofi Synthélabo and Aventis in 2004. Annually, Sanofi makes $40 billion.
Headquarters: Paris, France
Popular Product: Lantus
Takeda’s history goes back to the 18th century in Osaka, Japan, where Chobei Takeda I started selling herbal medicines in 1781. He quickly became popular among the people because of his high-quality products. Almost a half-decade later, in 1852, Chobei Takeda III built a new warehouse for medicines, and this building remained intact for 90 years. The acquisition of Uchibayashi Drug Works in 1895 allowed the company to manufacture products commercially, and the first two products manufactured at the facility were bismuth subgallate and quinine hydrochloride. The present-day Takeda Pharmaceuticals was established in 1915 after it had created a research division. Since then, Takeda has become one of the leading pharmaceutical companies not only in Asia but in the entire world. In 2019, Takeda Pharmaceuticals generated $30 billion in revenue.
Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
Popular Product: Entyvio
Shanghai Pharmaceuticals Holding
As the name suggests, this is primarily a holding company, i.e., it controls the security and shares of other companies. Despite that, it produces its products, as well as distributes products manufactured by other companies. Moreover, it is enlisted in both China’s and Hong Kong’s Stock Exchanges. It was founded in 1994 and it primarily produces and distributes products for the treatment of cancer, nervous system disorders, and gastrointestinal issues. As for its distributing business, Shanghai Pharmaceuticals Holding has over 1800 stores in China. Presently, it generates a revenue of $26 billion.
Headquarters: Shanghai. China
Popular Product: Sulfotanshinone Sodium injection