New research reveals pharma companies are more profitable than most S&P 500 companies

New research reveals pharma companies are more profitable than most S&P 500 companies
A study from the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University compares the annual profits of 35 pharmaceutical companies to 357 D&P 500 companies. The net income margin of pharmaceutical companies was larger than that of S&P 500 companies (median 13.8% vs 7.7%, p<.001) but similar to companies in certain industrial sectors. Credit: Bentley University

Large pharmaceutical companies are more profitable than most companies in the S&P 500 according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) titled "Profitability of Large Pharmaceutical Companies Compared with Other Large Public Companies." Pharmaceutical profits were closer to those of other research-based companies within the S&P 500 and were not higher than companies in the technology sector.

The study from the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University is the first to critically examine the profitability of the companies that are responsible for the development, manufacturing, marketing and sale of most medicines. The results may inform policies to ensure both the affordability and availability of essential medicines now and in the future.

The study was undertaken in the context of public opinion surveys showing that 80% of respondents believe the profits made by pharmaceutical companies are a major factor contributing to the price of prescription drugs. "While there is extensive research on the health impacts of unaffordable drugs, there has been little research on the profitability of pharmaceutical companies," said Dr. Fred Ledley, director of the Center for Integration of Science and Industry, and the senior author of the study. "Developing policies to assure the affordability of essential medicines will also require an understanding of how reducing drug prices may impact the industry that makes these drugs available."

The Bentley University study compared the profits of 35 large pharmaceutical companies with those of 347 companies from the S&P 500 Index. During the period from 2000 through 2018, the pharmaceutical companies had a cumulative revenue of $11.5 trillion and cumulative net income of $1.9 trillion. Net income, also called "earnings," reflects the difference between all revenues and expenses and is a company's "bottom line" used in calculating earnings per share. Over this same period, the median net income margin (the percentage of revenue remaining after deducting all expenses) for pharmaceutical companies was 13.7% compared to 7.7% for S&P 500 companies, a difference of 6.1%. However, when comparing pharmaceutical companies to those S&P 500 companies reporting research and development expenses and considering the effects of size and time trends, the difference in median profits was 3.6%, and pharmaceutical companies were not more profitable than those companies in the or healthcare companies developing non-pharmaceutical products. Over the past five years, from 2014-2018, there was no significant difference in net income margin between pharmaceutical and S&P 500 companies.

These estimates of pharmaceutical profit margins were lower than those used by the National Academies of Science in their 2017 report, Making Medicines Affordable: a National Imperative.

The Bentley study focused explicitly on large , which provide the large majority of all medicines. In 2018, these companies had a combined market value of $2.4 trillion, directly employed 992 thousand people, and expensed $120 billion for research & development of new medicines. Pharmaceutical companies represent only one element of the pharmaceutical distribution system, which also includes pharmacy benefit managers, wholesalers, pharmacies, and as well as academic laboratories and biotechnology companies involved in basic and applied research leading to the development of new medicines.

More information: Journal of the American Medical Association (2020). DOI: 10.1001/jama.2020.0442 , … .1001/jama.2020.0442

Provided by Bentley University
Citation: New research reveals pharma companies are more profitable than most S&P 500 companies (2020, March 3) retrieved 24 June 2024 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

Analysis finds big drugmakers could lose $1 trillion in sales and still be most profitable industry


Feedback to editors