1. Johnson & Johnson

Pharma watchers are keeping an eye on J&J's top drug, Remicade, which is under attack from biosimilars but still manages to hold strong in the U.S. (J&J)

Johnson & Johnson
2017 revenue:
$76.45 billion  
2016 revenue: $71.89 billion
Headquarters: New Brunswick, New Jersey

Johnson & Johnson, the perennial top dog in FiercePharma's annual report profiling leading drug companies, grabbed the No. 1 spot once again. The company handily topped all other drugmakers in the industry, generating a whopping $76.45 billion in global sales, a 6.3% increase over the previous year. 

Of course, that figure includes J&J's army of companies, ranging from medical devices to consumer health and more. Its pharma division pulled in $36.3 billion, while medical devices generated $26.6 billion and consumer health chipped in $13.6 billion. 

Though it came late in the year, U.S. tax reform was a large part of the story for J&J—and all drugmakers—in 2017. In the fourth-quarter, the company paid a $13.6 billion one-time charge related to the tax changes, significantly hurting its overall profit for the year. Despite that hit, J&J turned in $1.3 billion in net earnings.

But 2018 will be different, tax-wise, as J&J starts to reap benefits from the new rules; CFO Dominic Caruso said early this year that he's expecting a tax-rate decline of 1.5 to 2.5 percentage points.

RELATED: J&J takes $14B hit on the way to 'immediate' tax reform windfall 

There were other storylines for the company throughout the year, too. Pharma watchers are keeping an eye on J&J's top drug, Remicade, which is under attack from biosimilars, but still manages to hold strong in the U.S. The reason for that, if you ask competitor Pfizer? "Exclusionary contracts." 

Pfizer has sued J&J for what it calls "anticompetitive" contracts that block its Remicade copy, Inflectra. Despite the fact that two biosimilars are now on the U.S. market, Remicade continued to dominate, generating $4.25 billion in the U.S., a decrease of just  6.5%. In Europe it was another story as biosimilar knockoffs came to market: Remicade sales there fell 34%, Merck reported. That company markets the megablockbuster in Europe. 

Addressing the lawsuit, J&J said Pfizer isn't offering enough value to win business. Merck also markets a Remicade biosim called Renflexis in the U.S. 

RELATED: Pfizer is falling short in a competitive market, Johnson & Johnson says as it hits back at Remicade biosimilar suit 

Aside from Remicade, another immunology drug, Stelara, chipped in 24% growth to $4 billion. And joining its immunology portfolio in 2017 was the newly launched Tremfya, now battling against Novartis' Cosentyx. It managed to pick up $47 million in the fourth quarter after a July 2017 approval. 

2017 was also important for J&J on the M&A front, as the drugmaker inked the year's largest acquisition in biopharma, according to The Pharma Letter, shelling out $30 billion for Switzerland's Actelion in Janaury. Since the deal, J&J has had to scrap a phase 3 antibiotic program that came from Actelion. But its bread-and butter pulmonary arterial hypertension drugs—Tracleer, Opsumit and Uptravi—made a $1.2 billion contribution to J&J's top line.

The deal came during a notably slow M&A year, but dealmaking has picked up since U.S. tax reform in December. While some market watchers thought J&J might deploy its newly accessible overseas cash for deals, CEO Alex Gorsky said investing in the pipeline, rather than M&A, is the "wise thing to do." 

1. Johnson & Johnson