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Pharma stocks 2012: 5 biggest winners, 5 biggest losers

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With the steady (and very loud) drumbeat of bad news this year about the patent cliff's toll on pharma sales and earnings, investing in the industry hasn't been a nonstop party. Still, the sector has outperformed major indices, and some stellar players have emerged. Of course, huge disappointments have cropped up, too.

So, as we close in on the end of the year, FiercePharma decided to take a look at how the biggest players in pharma have performed. We looked at the 20 largest drugmakers by sales--excluding Boehringer Ingelheim, which is private--and identified the biggest winners and losers. Here they are, based on their closing share prices on the first trading day of 2012 through the end of last week, or Monday if they didn't trade Nov. 23. We give you the top 5 by percentage gain and the bottom 5 by percentage loss.

The winners, in many cases, are there because strong revenues on some top-notch drugs and some very promising ones in pipelines. But cost-cutting and layoffs also helped; efficiency drives set some companies up for earnings gains. Others beat the pack with more direct measures, namely share buybacks and nice dividends--the kinds of things that can appease otherwise testy shareholders.

The losers? Well, they are a mixed bag. The patent cliff, which put an estimated $67 billion worth of sales in the target of generics this year, certainly played a big role. But there were R&D failures and manufacturing screw-ups and management debacles as well. Read the list and let us know what you think.

-- Eric Palmer (email | Twitter) | Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)