Which Big Pharma Companies Make the Most Money?

Pfizer, in collaboration with BioNTech, created the first COVID-19 vaccine approved by the FDA in 2021. Now Pfizer is the most profitable pharmaceutical company in the world, making $994.80 per second in 2022! This is no doubt in large part due to the development of the vaccine along with Paxlovid, an antiviral drug used to treat COVID-19 symptoms. This infographic visualizes the most profitable pharmaceutical companies across the globe and how much they profited per second in 2022. What contributes to the massive profits made by Big Pharma? First, pharmaceutical companies purposely focus their resources on drugs that will make them the most money, such as those necessary for the treatment of common, chronic conditions. Second, patents prevent competitive marketing, leaving drug prices unchallenged. When companies obtain patents on their products, it prevents other companies from creating competing drugs. Humira, an immunosuppressive drug crucial to the livelihood of 1.4 million people worldwide, is protected by 132 patents owned by manufacturer AbbVie. This is part of why Humira can cost up to $8,000 per kit (which only lasts two weeks). Fortunately, AbbVie has finally permitted other companies to make their own versions in 2023, so there may be relief on the horizon. Drug patents last 20 years in the United States, so drug monopolies are often locked in for many years. Pharmaceutical companies also outsource research to university and government labs or smaller research facilities and only purchase the license (or entire company) once initial testing is complete. Pfizer has only developed ten out of 44 of its best-selling drugs in house. Lobbying also plays a role. Big pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. spend way more on lobbying than any other industry (twice as much as the second-highest spending industry, insurance). Massive profit margins are another factor. A study by the University of Southern California’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics found that the gross profit margin for big pharma companies in the United States was 71%! To put that into perspective, a good business profit margin is considered 20%.

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