Prescription for profit

Business is booming for the big pharmaceutical companies. In 2002 their total drug sales reached $430 billion1 – a jump of $66 billion, nearly 20%, from the previous year. 2 Big Pharma’s profit margins are the highest of any industry, beating even the widely perceived thievery of the commercial banks.

Most profitable industries (ranked by percentage return on revenues, 2001)3

Top Dogs

Carve up

Big Pharma’s got its market sussed – researching drugs that sell well for a decent price in the wealthy West.

Friends in high places

Big Pharma spends more on lobbying politicians and regulatory bodies than any other industry.

To market, to market

Big Pharma spends lavishly to push its wares.

Can't pay, won't get9

Medicines as percentage of total health expenditure, 2000

  1. All monetary values are expressed in US dollars.
  2. Pharmaceutical Executive, May 2003.
  3. Bob Burton and Andy Rowell, ‘Disease Mongering’ in PR Watch, Vol 10, No 1, First Quarter 2003.
  4. The 2002 Fortune 500,
  5. Julian Oram, ‘Addicted to profit’, 2002,
  6. Jeffrey Robinson, Prescription Games (Simon & Schuster 2001).
  7. Rachel Cohen, ‘An Epidemic of Neglect: Neglected diseases and the health burden in poor countries’, Multinational Monitor, Vol 23, No 6, June 2002.
  8. ‘Drug development for neglected diseases: a deficient market and a public-health policy failure’, The Lancet, Vol 359, 22 June 2002.
  9. IMS World Review 2003,
  10. Martin Foreman, Patents, pills and pubic health: Can TRIPS deliver? (The Panos Institute 2002).
  11. ‘US promotional spend for medicines doubles’, Scrip, No 2863, 2 July 2003.
  12. Ray Moynihan, ‘Sweetening the pill’, Good Weekend, 31 May 2003.
  13. Families USA, Profiting from pain: Where prescription drug dollars go, July 2002,
  14. Public Citizen,
  15. Dr Peter Mansfield

New Internationalist issue 362 magazine cover This article is from the November 2003 issue of New Internationalist.
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