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Novartis knocks Pfizer off sales leader board

Swiss firm takes US giant’s crown as diversification programme and pipeline come to fruition

Novartis HQ 

New data exclusively provided to PMLiVE has revealed a major shift in power at the top of big pharma as patent losses and new blockbuster drugs shake up the old guard.

The top pharma list, provided by consultancy group GlobalData, reveals that Novartis is now number one in terms of drug revenues for 2014, taking over from the long-standing dominance of Pfizer.

The Swiss firm has clearly made its diversification model work as recent acquisitions, such as for the eye care company Alcon (making it the leading ophthalmology group in the world), and a strong pipeline of drugs across multiple therapy areas, has helped it stave off major losses from the $6bn a year sales once coming from its blood pressure pill Diovan (valsartan).

Despite now being second, Pfizer has also managed a strong comeback after the crushing loss of its once $13bn a year statin Lipitor (atorvastatin), which began losing patents in 2012. Sales of the pill were just $2.8bn for 2014.

This is because Pfizer too has made changes, including the sale of its animal health unit Zoetis and purchase of the biosimilar firm Hospira, as it looks to focus more heavily on new medicines, most notably in oncology, which are bringing in strong and consistent sales for the firm. 

Special mention must also be made to Gilead that has jumped into the top ten pharma firm list (after being outside the top 20 for its entire corporate life) as the now ninth biggest by sales.

This is thanks almost entirely to the runaway success of its new hepatitis C pill Sovaldi, which made more than $10bn in its first year in 2014, making it the second-biggest selling drug in the world, just behind AbbVie's ageing arthritis drug Humira (adalimumab). 

In fact Gilead's total sales grew from £10.8bn in 2013 to $24.4bn in 2014 and will grow even higher this year as its combination hep C treatment, Harvoni, is expected to bring in even more revenue than Sovaldi in 2015.

Slipping down the ranks 

But while some have climbed the list, others have fallen, and the two most notable slides have come from GlaxoSmithKline and Lilly, which have suffered in varying degrees from weak pipelines and fines, all of which have negatively affected growth.

GSK, now only the seventh biggest pharma company, has been the hardest hit in recent years with a $3bn US fine coming in 2012 for a multitude of historic market abuses, as well as legal tussles in China, which saw it slapped with another $500m fine and a major hit to its reputation and sales in the country.

GSK has also sold off its oncology unit to Novartis - which now has double the market value of GSK - in a deal totalling $20bn. Much of the money from the sale will be going back to shareholders in a buyback scheme to keep nervy investors onside, and many have questioned why it should shed a unit that looks to be highly profitable in the near future. 

The London-based company is now just one place ahead of AstraZeneca, which last year was the subject of a major $118bn takeover attempt from Pfizer - a deal that would have made the US firm maintain the top spot on the pharma leader board.

AZ is now expected to maintain its place in the top 10 as a growing pipeline of drugs - which is being added to almost monthly with new bolt-on deals from across biotech firms and academia - combined with a clear independent focus from its new CEO Pascal Soirot. 

Meanwhile, Lilly's relatively weak pipeline and the loss of patents for major drugs, such as Zyprexa (olanzapine), which has seen its once blockbuster sales decimated since 2012 by generic competition, has also ben hard hit. The US firm is now only the fourteenth largest pharma company.

Please visit here for more on the latest data. 

Top 15 pharma firms based on 2014 sales:

  1. Novartis: $47.1bn
  2. Pfizer: $45.7bn
  3. Roche: $39.1bn
  4. Sanofi: $36.4bn
  5. Merck & Co: $36bn
  6. Johnson & Johnson: $32.3bn
  7. GlaxoSmithKline: $29.6bn
  8. AstraZeneca: $29.1bn
  9. Gilead Sciences: 24.4bn
  10. Takeda: $20.4bn
  11. AbbVie: 20.2bn
  12. Amgen: $19.3bn
  13. Teva $18.3bn 
  14. Eli Lilly: $17.2bn
  15. Bristol-Myers Squibb: $15.8bn

Article by
Ben Adams

9th April 2015

From: Sales

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