Within the healthcare sector, Pfizer (PFE) is one of the leading companies in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. Several other large drug manufacturers exist within this market, too. Novartis AG, Merck & Co. Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. are among Pfizer's main competitors.

Pfizer was founded in 1849 and is based in New York with global operations. Pfizer researches, develops, manufactures, and then markets its pharmaceuticals, which include both prescription products and over-the-counter products, such as Advil and Robitussin. Pfizer products include both animal health products, such as vaccines, and human medicines. Some of Pfizer's most popular prescription products include Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug that was once the world's number one selling drug; the pneumonia vaccine, Prevnar; and Viagra, which treats erectile dysfunction.

Key Takeaways

  • Pfizer (PFE) is one of the leading companies in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry.
  • Some of Pfizer's most popular prescription drugs include Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug that was once the world's number one selling drug; the pneumonia vaccine, Prevnar; and Viagra, which treats erectile dysfunction.
  • Pfizer's main competitors are Merck & Co., Novartis AG, Eli Lilly & Co., Bristol Myers Squibb, and Johnson & Johnson.

Merck & Co.

Founded in the 19th century, Merck & Co. (MRK) is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world today. Oncology and diabetes are two major focus areas for Merck. Several of its top 10 revenue-producing products are considered specialty drugs because they cater to illnesses that are not widespread. Merck's top-selling drug in 2019 was Keytruda, also one of the best-selling drugs worldwide. Keytruda is a cancer drug–approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for many types of cancer–that generated nearly $11 billion in revenue for Merck in 2019. Merck also manufactures Gardasil, the vaccine for the prevention of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).

Novartis AG

Based in Switzerland, Novartis AG (NVS) is one of the pharmaceutical industry's world leaders in sales. According to an article published by FiercePharma, Novartis is projected to become the biggest drugmaker in the world by 2024. Among its best-selling drugs are prescription treatments for cancer, multiple sclerosis, and macular degeneration. Four of Novartis's products had sales of over $1 billion in 2018. In 2019, the company purchased Medicines Co. for $9.7 billion, adding an experimental, cholesterol-lowering drug called Inclisiran to its repertoire.

Eli Lilly and Company

Eli Lilly and Company (LLY) is an American pharmaceutical company headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. The company is named after Col. Eli Lilly, a chemist and a veteran of the American Civil War who founded the company in 1876. Eli Lilly was the first company to mass-produce the polio vaccine and insulin. The company is currently the largest producer of psychiatric drugs, including Prozac, Dolophone, Cymbalta, and Zyprexa.

Bristol-Myers Squibb

Like most other major pharmaceutical companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) derives the bulk of its revenue from a limited number of drugs, typically either expensive, specialty medications or cheaper products that are widely used. Bristol-Myers Squibb's mass-market antipsychotic, Abilify, is widely used in the treatment of schizophrenia. The company's top three selling drugs are Eliquis, an oral anticoagulant, Opdivo, for the treatment of advanced lung cancer, and Orencia, for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. These three drugs accounted for three-fourths of the company's total sales in 2019. Total sales of these three drugs grew from $9.4 billion in 2016 to $17.6 billion in 2019.

Johnson & Johnson

Though less than half of Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) revenue comes from its pharmaceutical division, the well-known maker of many common, household consumer goods is a formidable competition to research-driven manufacturers such as Pfizer. Besides over-the-counter products for self-treatment and at-home medication, Johnson & Johnson produces high-priced specialty drugs used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, prostate cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

High Levels of Profit in the Pharmaceutical Industry

The pharmaceutical industry must undergo years of research, clinical trials, and attempts at obtaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before introducing their products to the market. However, if successful, these companies have the ability to earn high levels of profit. If drugs do not pass clinical trials or fail to be approved by the FDA, this can result in a huge loss of time and money. Because of this, Pfizer, Merck, Novartis AG, Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers, and Johnson & Johnson exist in fierce competition with each other.