Tops at Ten

By Gil Y. Roth | July 9, 2010

10 years of ranking pharma and biopharma

This issue marks the 10th year of our Top 20 Pharma and Top 10 Biopharma report. We began it in 2001, after a well-intentioned stab at a Top CMOs feature in 2000 that turned out slightly worse than "NBC's Salute To Fireworks" on that episode of 30 Rock. (Who knew that so many privately held companies would be so reticent to give out their revenue figures for publication?) In honor of this 10-year milestone, I thought I'd look back at our first report and see how things have changed.

For one thing, the Top 20 Pharma companies nowadays are around double the size they were in 2001 (based on revenues from 2000). GSK, the #1 company that year, posted sales of $23.5 billion, while Pfizer, this year's #1, reported 2009 revenues of $45.4 billion. The #20 company in our first report, Shionogi, had $2.8 billion in sales, while this year's #20, Mylan, clocked in at $5.0 billion.

On the biopharma side, the numbers are a little crazier, of course. Amgen was our #1 at $3.2 billion in 2001. Over the decade, Amgen more than quintupled its sales, reaching $14.4 billion this time around. Keep in mind: its revenues have been nearly stagnant for three years! Gilead Sciences, which I'd mistakenly considered a biopharma (I had yet to settle on a good definition of "biopharma" at that point), had sales of $150 million in 2000; that company just reached #19 in our pharma ranks with $6.5 billion in 2009 revenues. That's a growth story, huh?

Of course, looking back on the Tops of 2001 can also be a bit morbid. In the spirit of creative destruction, the following companies from our Top 20 Pharmas no longer exist as independents:
  • Aventis (#5)
  • Pharmacia (#9)
  • American Home Products / Wyeth (#10)
  • Schering-Plough (#13)
  • Sankyo (#19)

That makes one-quarter of the world's biggest pharma companies snapped up since 2000. I guess this means biopharma was a better bet, since half of the top 10 were acquired in the span of a few years:
  • Serono (#3)
  • Immunex (#4)
  • MedImmune (#7)
  • Chiron (#8)
  • Millennium (#9)

In fact, the big news of that year was that GSK became #1 by, well, becoming GSK. The merger of GlaxoWellcome and SmithKline Beecham was closed in January 2001, but the companies reported as single entity for 2000, keeping it ahead of Pfizer, which had just landed Warner-Lambert earlier in the year. And Pfizer was only able to buy WL after wresting it from the grasp of American Home Products . . . which it wound up buying 10 years later as Wyeth. Merck, meanwhile, was focused on internal growth and R&D.

Within biopharma, Amgen was working in 2001 to build up its small molecule expertise, an area that 10 years later contributes around 5% to the bottom line. Genentech's Avastin, now the world's biggest biopharma drug, was still four years from getting FDA approval.

And then there's the editor. Ten years ago, this column was all about how difficult it is to freeze a moment in time. I made an obscure reference to an A.S. Byatt novel as a way of explaining why the Top Companies profiles didn't have all the latest news that had occurred between my finishing the report and my writing the column.

Of course, that happens every year. This time around, I posted the report shortly before
  • Abbott began (secretly) shopping its flu vaccine facility,
  • Lilly acquired Alnara Pharmaceuticals,
  • Sanofi-Aventis acquired TargaGen,
  • Abbott's executive vice president of pharma retired,
  • GSK and Genmab revised their ofatumumab deal,
  • Bloomberg managed to publish the bizarre headline, Swiss Roche Embraces Genentech Cool to Keep Drug Pipeline Lusty, and . . .
  • Sanofi (secretly) began negotiating "a major U.S. acquisition," according to news reports, some of which cited a $20 billion figure.

Sigh. I suppose Some things never change.


Gil Roth has been the editor of Contract Pharma since its debut in 1999. He can be reached at gil@rodpub.com.