Attaining a certain drug can mean the difference between life and death for millions of Americans. These essential products also help generate billions for drug manufacturers.
Pharmaceutical companies generate an estimated $300 billion in profit a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Much of that value is driven by a handful of extremely popular prescription drugs. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 15 top annual sales figures for prescription medications from IMS Health, a company that tracks the drugs bought by hospitals and pharmacies.
Most of the best-selling drugs are made by the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, which dominate the industry. The world’s 10 largest pharmaceutical companies are responsible for 11 of the 15 best-selling drugs in the world. Annual sales of these 15 drugs account for 12% of all prescription drug sales globally. Swiss drug maker Roche developed and markets three of the world’s 15 best-selling medications, British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca sells two. The two companies sold a combined $34.3 billion of the five drugs in 2014 alone.
A wide range of factors ultimately determine whether or not a drug becomes a blockbuster, selling at least $1 billion a year. Perhaps the most important factor, aside from providing effective treatment, is the prevalence of the condition the drug treats. For example, in the United States — by far the world’s largest consumer of prescription drugs — diabetes and arthritis are among the most common treatable diseases. Partially as a result, six of the 15 prescription drugs bringing in billions in annual sales treat some form of diabetes or arthritis.
Widespread usage is only one half of the equation. The other half is price. The most expensive drug in the United States is Sovaldi, a drug that can cure hepatitis C, a condition that infects less than 30,000 Americans a year. A 12 week supply of the medication costs $81,000. Due in part to the high cost, Sovaldi brought its manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, $9.4 billion in sales in 2014 alone, more than all but two other prescription drugs.
In addition to demand and cost, market share can also greatly influence a drug’s sales. Once a drug is developed it has to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which often also grants the developer exclusive sales rights for a set period of time, from 180 days to seven years. The exclusivity protects the developer from competition and is intended to incentivize innovation. High sales of many of the best selling drugs are often attributable to exclusivity provisions. Exclusivity and patent laws vary by country.
When exclusivity protections expire, other companies can introduce identical drugs known as generics. Generics are typically far cheaper than the original brand name drug and save consumers up to $10 billion a year through pharmacy sales alone. Hospitals also save billions when generic drugs are released. Name brand drug manufacturers will often pay would-be generic drug makers to keep their product off the market for a certain amount of time in an attempt to sustain market share.
To identify the best-selling drugs in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed global 2014 sales of prescription drugs from health industry research firm IMS Health. Global sales are in U.S. dollars. We only considered medications available in the United States. Sales figures cover wholesale and manufacturer channels.
These are the 15 best selling drugs in the world.