3 Most Lucrative Drug Companies

By Lora Keleher , last updated January 1, 2012

It should come as no surprise that big pharma is big business. Every time you fill a prescription at the pharmacy or purchase over-the-counter medicine, pharmaceutical companies are making a profit off your purchase. Drug companies regularly top the list of most profitable Fortune 500 companies. Whether a company creates meds to treat a common cold, bacterial infection, psychological condition, or chronic illness, it earns money every time people purchase medicine. According to Fortune magazine, the three most profitable drug companies of 2011 were Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck.

Pfizer

Currently known for the development and manufacture of little blue pills that cure impotency, known as Viagra, Pfizer is one of the largest and most lucrative pharmaceutical companies in existence. In 2011, its revenue was $67,809 million. Founded in 1849 by German immigrants Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart, the company opened its doors with the manufacture of a confectionary-like form of santonin, a drug used to treat parasitic intestinal worms. The success of this initial endeavor enabled the company to continually grow and develop into what is today the largest pharmaceutical company in the world that researches, develops, manufactures and sells drugs. By researching new drugs designed to treat basic infections and chronic conditions, acquiring other pharmaceutical companies and research facilities, and forming agreements with internationally based pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer is positioning itself to remain an industry leader with an increasing global presence in the years to come.

Johnson & Johnson

Despite recent struggles with FDA recalls and increasingly stringent governmental oversight, Johnson and Johnson was still able to pull in profits of $61,587 million in 2011. Founded by the Johnson brothers in 1886, the company quickly made a name for itself by manufacturing the first sanitary napkins, dental floss, and first aid kits, and publishing a textbook on sterilization methods for safer surgical procedures. Today, the company is known for manufacturing everything from baby powder and Listerine, to cutting-edge pharmaceutical drugs to treat chronic conditions, such as clogged arteries, tuberculosis, and HIV. Johnson & Johnson has also developed initiatives to keep kids safe from injury, surgical techniques to make surgery safer and less expensive, and initiatives to assist women in developing countries remain healthy after childbirth.

Merck

In 2009, Merck and Schering-Plough merged. The newly formed healthcare behemoth earned profits of $45,987 million in 2011, making it one of the most profitable companies in the industry. Although Merck first opened its US-based facilities in 1891, the German-based company was actually started in 1668. Over the years, the company has been behind the development of many vital pharmaceuticals, such as the measles shot, prednisone, and products to treat high cholesterol. Merck researchers also discovered vitamin B1, and the antibiotic streptomycin. Today, the company manufactures and sells hundreds of over-the-counter and prescription medicines to people located throughout the world. It also prints the Merck Manual for doctors and pharmacists in 17 different languages. In addition to making advances in medical research for humans, Merck also develops and manufactures vaccines and medicines used to treat injured and sick animals.

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