Top Pharma Companies by 2012 Revenues

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In the annals of Big Pharma, 2012 was expected to be the year of all patent-cliff years. With more than a dozen patent expirations, it was the year most dreaded by much of Big Pharma. Yes, the biggest blockbuster lost patent protection in 2011--Pfizer's ($PFE) Lipitor--but in 2012, a whole list of big sellers would drop. Even the Lipitor damage would hit then, because its patent expired only one month before 2011 ended.

So, pharma's sales wouldn't just drop in 2012. They'd plummet like a base-jumping daredevil with a faulty parachute.

And the year didn't disappoint. For sheer terror, nothing matched the patent-cliff headlines as the year unfolded. A breathtaking 90% free-fall in Singulair sales for Merck ($MRK)--within four weeks of patent expiration. A Plavix bloodbath for Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), with sales slashed by 96%. A depressing 83% slide in Seroquel IR sales for AstraZeneca ($AZN). And the list goes on.

No wonder, then, that the drug industry's 2012 results were pale, thin versions of hale-and-hearty years past. Only three of the companies on this list managed to grow their pharma sales in 2012. Two others tied for the biggest decline in total revenues--a whopping 17%. Like to take a guess which are which? No? Then let's take it as a process of elimination.

A few drugmakers rode 2012 like a roller coaster. Ups and downs, yes, but they ended up in roughly the same place. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), for instance, reported a 1% drop in sales, but, adjusting for the sale of some over-the-counter products, turnover was essentially flat.

Novartis ($NVS) also ended 2012 with a 0% change from 2011, in constant currencies at least. In U.S. dollars, sales fell by 3%. Pharma sales alone were also pretty flat--a 1% decline, or 2% rise in constant currencies--despite a $1.6 billion hit from generic competition.

Sanofi's ($SNY) pharma sales slid by four-tenths of one percent, in constant currencies (as reported, they rose by 3.5%). Overall, sales grew by 0.5%, currency-adjusted. That's almost as close to flat as you can get.

Merck, meanwhile, dropped 2%, including a 3% negative currency effect; ex-currency, that's a decline of 1%. Considering Singulair's spectacular fall, a 1% overall slide looks pretty static by comparison. Its pharma sales did drop 6%, however, with Januvia and Janumet picking up some of the Singulair slack.

Now, to the growth category. Bayer HealthCare sales were up 8.4%, while Roche's ($RHHBY) rose by 7% and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) grew 6.1%. Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) posted overall growth of 5.5%. Adjusted for currency effects, the growth rates were 4.2%, 4%, 3.4% and 2.6%, respectively.

The same four companies were the only groups on the list whose branded drug sales grew. Bayer HealthCare's pharma sales were up by 8.6% in euros, or 4.2% adjusted for currency effects. Abbott's branded drug sales grew by 8.2%, or 5.5% as adjusted. Roche pharma grew by 7%, aided by cancer-drug sales, or 5% at constant exchange rates. And Johnson & Johnson's grew by 6.8%, or 4% on an adjusted basis.

So, who wins the sales-loss sweepstakes? AstraZeneca. With generics taking billions out of its Seroquel franchise--and little else to soften the blow--the company ended 2012 with more than $5 billion less on its top line than in 2011. It can take heart from the fact that fellow Big Pharma player--and its diabetes partner--Bristol-Myers Squibb also took a 17% hit to sales for the year.

In the end, 2012 provided plenty of dramatic patent-loss swoons, but much of Big Pharma weathered the year without eye-popping sales declines overall. Some companies managed to move past the carnage and into positive territory. As always, let us know your thoughts.

A note on methodology: We drew our figures from companies' filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, their annual reports, and information provided during earnings calls. Sales reported in pounds, euros or francs were converted into U.S. dollars. Additional details on sales by product group and by revenue type--including licensing and alliance revenues--were provided by EvaluatePharma. -- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter) | Eric Palmer (email | Twitter)