Feb 11, 2021

Brand Name Pharma Companies Continue to Bring in Sky-High Profits While Hiking Prices

New fourth quarter earning reports from Big Pharma giants Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Sanofi, Merck, Roche and AstraZeneca demonstrate yet again that price hikes continue to support big time profits for brand name drug companies. All five drug makers reported sky-high earnings after hiking prices on their prescription products within the last year.

Bristol-Myers Squibb

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb’s sales for the quarter surged to $11.1 billion – topping analysts’ expectations.
  • The company’s Myeloma drug Revlimid – acquired in a blockbuster deal with Celgene – contributed $3.2 billion in sales.
  • Sales of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blood thinner drug Eliquis rose 12 percent to $2.3 billion.
  • Sanofi posted stronger-than-expected results for the fourth quarter.
  • The brand name drug maker reported expectation-besting profits of $1.29 billion.
  • Strong sales were driven by the pharmaceutical division – especially eczema drug Dupixent, which posted 54 percent sales growth in the quarter.
  • Merck reported revenue of $12.51 billion – up five percent year over year – while earnings rose 14 percent year over year.
  • Strong sales were driven by blockbuster drug Keytruda which jumped 28 percent in Q4 to account for just under $4 billion in sales.
  • Merck’s pharmaceutical segment generated revenues of $11.4 billion, up eight percent year over year.
  • Roche reported net profit rose to $15.91 billion.
  • Sales for Roche’s newly launched medicines division jumped 32 percent.
  • Key growth drivers for the company included multiple sclerosis drugs Ocrevus, hemophilia medication Hemlibra and cancer drugs Tecentriq and Perjeta.
  • AstraZeneca reported fourth quarter sales of just over $7 billion for the fourth quarter – up 12 percent year over year.
  • Revenue for the brand name company clocked in at $7.41 billion – beating analysts’ expectations.
  • Strong sales were driven by the company’s cancer treatments, which were saw a 24 percent increase year over year.

The brand name companies earnings reports come after they participated in a series of price hikes in the past year, despite the mounting crisis of affordability across the country.

Bristol-Myers Squibb

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb started off the new year by hiking prices on at least ten medications, including two key cancer drugs, Opdivo and Revlimid, as well as on blockbuster blood thinner Eliquis.
  • Last year, Bristol-Myers Squibb hiked prices on at least 15 medications.
  • In 2019, Bristol-Myers Squibb acquired Revlimid in a $74 billion blockbuster deal with Celgene. On the day the deal was announced, Celgene boosted the price of Revlimid to $719.82. The drug cost $247.28 in 2007.
  • This was business as usual for Bristol-Myers Squibb. From 2015 to 2019 the company had the most price hikes per drug of any Big Pharma company.
  • Sanofi started off the New Year by raising prices on at least 40 medications.
  • Last summer, Sanofi was among a handful of Big Pharma giants that announced new price hikes despite the unprecedented economic uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Last year, Sanofi was caught exploiting charities to boost the company’s bottom line at the expense of taxpayers. In a settlement, Sanofi was ordered to pay the U.S. government nearly $12 million after the company “used a charity that helps cover Medicare patients’ out-of-pocket drug costs as a means to pay them kickbacks to use a high-priced multiple sclerosis drug,” Reuters reports.
  • Already this year Merck has increased prices at least 14 times, including on blockbuster diabetes medicines Januvia and Janumet.
  • The brand name company also raised the price of HIV therapy treatment Insentress by almost five percent.
  • Last year, Merck hiked prices at least 45 times.
  • As sales have climbed, Roche has repeatedly hiked prices on the products in its portfolio.
  • In the first week of the 2020, Roche hiked prices on 11 drugs.
  • Blockbuster cancer drug Perjeta was named one of the top 25 drugs pushing costs up in Oregon.
  • report released in late 2019 found that Roche’s price hikes on the popular drug Rituxan were not supported by innovation or improvements and cost U.S. taxpayers $806 million.
  • The brand name drug maker has already hiked prices on at least 17 medications to start the year.
  • AstraZeneca was one of several companies to participate in Big Pharma’s biennial price hikes this past summer – despite the unprecedented economic uncertainty facing millions of Americans grappling with the pandemic – by increasing prices on 18 drugs, including on popular cholesterol drug Crestor and blockbuster drug Symbicort.
AstraZeneca has a long history of hiking prices on Americans struggling to afford their medications:
  • As AstraZeneca Faced Generic Competition To Its High Cholesterol Drug Crestor, Its “Price Was Increased Several Times Before The Generic Came Out … Including By About 15 Percent Right Before.” “AstraZeneca’s AZN, -0.08% drug Crestor, another of the drugs featured in the report, is a popular but expensive drug that treats high cholesterol. In 2016, when the drug first got a new generic rival, the branded product cost about $300 a month without insurance coverage. The price was increased several times before the generic came out … including by about 15% right before. (AstraZeneca said it could not comment because it was not involved in the study.)” (Emma Court, “Big Pharma Games The System To Make Generic Drugs More Expensive,” MarketWatch, 8/3/18)
  • AstraZeneca’s Pricing Strategy Served To Create “A New, Higher Baseline Price When The Generic Hits The Market.” (Tori Marsh, “Prices For Brand Drugs Spike Before A Generic Is Released. Here’s Why.,” GoodRx, 7/27/18)
  • After Increasing Drug Prices By As Much As Nine Percent, On A 2018 Earnings Call, Soriot Insisted The Company Was “Sensitive” To Drug Pricing Concerns And Said It Had Raised “Wholesale Prices Earlier [That] Year By ‘Very, Very Modest’ Amounts.” “During an earnings conference call, the AstraZeneca chief executive disclosed the company would not raise prices in the U.S. for the rest of year. Other drug makers have taken the same step in response to pressure from the Trump administration, but he insisted this was ‘our plan … all along’ … He maintained AstraZeneca was sensitive to the problem by raising wholesale prices earlier this year by ‘very, very modest’ amounts, ‘between 1 and 3 percent’ which, he said, was ‘in line with inflation.’” (Ed Silverman, “When Modest Is Actually Excessive: AstraZeneca Spins Its Price Hikes,” STAT News, 7/26/18)

These drug makers round out our coverage of 2020 Q4 earnings announcements. See how other brand name drug makers including Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline have beat Wall Street expectations after hiking prices on American patients HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.