The biggest-selling pharma companies of 2023

Propelled by Covid Pfizer surges ahead, but more interest could fall on a cohort of companies driven by newcomer drugs lower down the list.

Three years on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic Covid vaccines and antivirals continue to drive Pfizer. And they will keep the group in first place by 2023 prescription drug sales, way ahead of rivals including Merck & Co and Novartis, Evaluate Vantage’s 2023 Preview report finds.

Even Keytruda, this year’s forecast biggest-seller, will propel Merck’s group sales to no more than 75% of Pfizer’s, the report finds. Still, what is happening lower down the list might be of even more interest; new drug launches could prompt a changing of the big pharma guard in future years, something that would be speeded by waning demand for pandemic products.

How soon Covid ceases to be an important driver of pharma sales is not yet apparent, and China’s recent retreat from a “zero-Covid” policy and from a reliance largely on homegrown vaccines – in favour of coronavirus products from Pfizer and others – suggests that this segment has some life left in it yet.

If this is the case then Merck, Abbvie, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Roche and Bristol Myers Squibb will largely fight among themselves for the biggest sellers’ lower rankings, with the first two of these facing problems relating to patent expiries sooner rather than later.

And all will eventually come under pressure from companies with fast-growing top lines, a list that looks quite different from the top 10 by absolute sales.

Source: Evaluate Pharma and Evaluate Vantage.

Companies forecast to add the most new revenues to their top lines next year include Novo Nordisk and Lilly – groups that do not even feature in the top 10 by total sales. These two players will benefit from high demand for the type 2 diabetes and obesity agents Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro.

Indeed, Lilly will likely enter this elite top-10 grouping soon as a result of Mounjaro, the dual GLP-1/GIP agonist first approved last May. This might come at the expense of the troubled UK player GSK, which has effectively bowed out of oncology, and which in 2023 will cling on to its status as a top-10 pharma company largely thanks to shingles and other vaccines.

It is also worth noting CSL and Grifols as two non-big pharma names among those seen generating significant top-line sales growth next year, thanks to expanding demand for their well-established immunoglobulin and blood plasma franchises. Daiichi Sankyo, meanwhile, is prepared for lift-off thanks to the Astrazeneca-partnered anti-Her2 drug Enhertu, which could revolutionise breast cancer treatment.

The report of course does not account for acquisitions and other deals. As the JP Morgan healthcare conference nears, business development can only be guessed at, but many will be hoping that 2023 brings plenty of it.

This story has been updated to clarify the definition of "new revenues", which refers to growth over 2022. For these insights and more, download your free copy here: Evaluate Vantage 2023 Preview.

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