A widely reported op-ed piece recently predicted the upcoming financial demise of the pharmaceutical industry. Some have opined, “there’s nowhere to go but down.” While it’s true that the industry faces strong headwinds (many of its own making), I don’t think it’s going to fold anytime soon. Reports of its upcoming demise are, as the saying goes, greatly exaggerated. There’s been an uptick in drug approvals in 2017 (the highest in over a decade), and some of the newest drugs cost upwards of half a million dollars or more. Global sales of biopharma medicines jumped 45 percent from 2006 to 2015. Cancer drug sales in particular are soaring. New biomedical innovations, such as CAR-T immunotherapies and gene modifications using the CRISPR-Cas9 system, appear promising to help treat mankind’s ills.
Let’s take the long view: how has the industry expanded and flourished over the past century? I was recently reading the centennial issue of Forbes, which listed the top 50 U.S. companies (ranked by market cap) from 1917, 1967 (the magazine’s 50th anniversary), and 2017 (100th anniversary). Comparing these time points provides a fine illustration of just how financially successful the pharmaceutical industry has become over the past one hundred years.