The global pharmaceutical market is to a large degree driven by its top pharmaceutical products. The same is true for the leading pharmaceutical companies, which generate a large share of their revenue from their top drug brands. For example, in 2022, Pfizer made some 63 billion U.S. dollars with its top three pharmaceutical drugs, or more than 60 percent of its total revenue. This was, of course, still mostly driven by the big success of its COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty.
The biggest: Humira and Lipitor
Aside from the COVID-19 vaccines (which are expected to decrease in sales over the next years), AbbVie's rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira is still the world’s top medication based on revenue. In 2022, Humira generated nearly 22 billion U.S. dollars of revenue worldwide. Pfizer’s cholesterol drug Lipitor was by far the top global drug for years, but yielded its position due to heavy losses caused by patent expiration. In the time of patent loss, between 2011 and 2012, Pfizer’s revenue through Lipitor dropped by some 60 percent. Both, Humira and Lipitor, are currently the leading drugs by lifetime sales. By 2026, Merck's cancer drug Keytruda is expected to take Lipitor's runner-up position in this category.
Performance on the largest market is essential
In the U.S., AbbVie’s Humira was also the top drug based on revenue in recent years. The drug generates the overwhelming part of its revenues in the United States where prices for drugs are much higher. Due to their significant lower prices, generics are always the top-selling pharmaceutical products when measured by dispensed prescriptions. In 2020, there were some 115 million prescriptions for cholesterol lowering drug atorvastatin – the generic version of above-mentioned Lipitor - in the United States alone.
A new generation of blockbusters
Biotechnology is becoming more and more the leading technology within the biopharmaceutical industry. Six out of the ten most revenue-generating drugs worldwide already are biotech-derived. The four best-selling products in 2022 were biotech: Comirnaty, Spikevax, Humira, and Keytruda. Although not a drug in the classic sense, biotech-derived mRNA-vaccine Comirnaty was the best-selling pharmaceutical product of all times already in 2021, based on annual sales. The COVID-19 vaccine was developed in cooperation of German-based BioNTech and U.S. giant Pfizer.
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