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As of 2014, the global pharmaceutical market was worth about $1 trillion US dollars in sales and is expected to increase by US$300 billion within next two years. The ten largest companies with annual sales over $20 billion controlled over one-third of this market. The biggest pharmaceutical companies by sales according to the 2015 edition of Financial Times Global 500 companies are Jonhson & Johnson, Pfizer, Novartis, Roche, and Merck.

  • First ranked company, Jonhson & Johnson, is engaged in R&D, manufacture, and sale of products in the field of human health and well-being. Headquartered in New Jersey, USA, the company operates more than 250 companies with about 126,500 employees total in more than 60 countries.
  • Although Johnson & Johnson is number one by sales, it is third by R&D expenditure among pharmaceutical companies, giving way to Novartis and Roche.
  • While the headquarters of the top 10 are equally divided between the US and Europe, North America accounted for 45 percent of world pharmaceutical sales in 2015 compared to 25 percent for Europe.

The industry is poised for rapid market expansion and R&D growth - which is of particular importance to the pharmaceutical industry - in developing countries such as Brazil, China, and India that could foreshadow a significant market shift for the industry. Today, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as information and communications technology and automobiles, is considered to be a highly R&D intensive sector with an average of 13 percent of net sales dedicated to R&D. Of the world's top 2,500 companies that invested in R&D in 2014 - spending a €607.2 billion, or about 90% of the world's total - 316 were from the pharma & biotech sector. These companies' combined R&D spending accounted for 15 percent of the global R&D investment that year. Moreover, the pharma & biotech industry achieved an R&D spending increase that was 6.8 percent above the world average in 2014.

However significant R&D expenditures are relative to the global net sales of the industry, the R&D price tag is only half as much as pharma companies' expenditures on marketing and far exceeds spending on public information on health. This leads to a conflict of interest between the business goals of manufacturers and social needs to select drugs based on best information available. Pharmaceutical companies have a role to play across several aspects of public health promotion and education, particularly in relation to shifting demographics and deficits in public health care. 

  • Developed country populations are rapidly aging. The elderly consume nearly seven times the health care resources as younger populations, putting a burden on the access and affordability of complex combinations of pharmaceuticals. 
  • Demographic challenges take a slightly different form in developing economies, where local economies are not growing fast enough to meet the health care demands of expanding middle classes, thus requiring external support.
  • Three out of eight Millennium Development Goals are related to healthcare - reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and combat HIV, AIDS, malaria and other diseases - further underscoring the need for diverse policy tools and a collaborative global response that includes participation from the information and resource rich pharmaceutical sector.

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