Europe is the homeland of the pharmaceutical industry as we know it. It is also home to the oldest, still active pharmaceutical company worldwide: Merck KGaA, in the U.S. also known as the Merck Group, which celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2018. Europe and the U.S. are still the largest and most prominent pharmaceutical markets. Their companies are still the global key players, where the most R&D investments take place. It is no wonder that the first widely approved and used COVID-19 vaccine worldwide came from a U.S.-European collaboration, between German firm BioNTech and American company Pfizer.
EFPIA – The industry’s parent organization
A large part of Europe’s drug manufacturers is organized within the EFPIA, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Association. Currently, it includes 36 national pharma associations and 39 of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Europe. The EFPIA also includes Russia and Turkey. For 2020, it was estimated that EFPIA members generated about 310 billion euros in production value. Additionally, the trade balance was a positive 155 billion euros, underlining the continent’s role as a major exporter of pharmaceutical goods. At this moment, some 830 thousand people are working in the European pharmaceutical industry, a significant increase compared to around 557 thousand employees back in 2000.
Small, but a giant
Although a smaller country in terms of population size, Switzerland is a long-established major player when it comes to its pharmaceutical industry (see graph below). Its pharmaceutical production value is larger than Germany’s and Ireland’s combined. The dominant Swiss position is of course driven by its two heavyweights, Roche and Novartis, the largest pharmaceutical companies worldwide based on prescription drug revenues. Both companies originate from the same city, Basel, where they also have their global headquarters. Besides these, other European companies within the global top 10 of big pharma are Sanofi from France and GlaxoSmithKline from the UK.
Europe as a center for R&D
The pipeline of potential new medicines and expenditure on research and development are essential in the pharmaceutical industry. EFPIA members spent nearly 40 billion euros on R&D during 2020. Germany spent around 8.5 billion, followed by Switzerland with 6.4 billion, and the UK with 5.4 billion euros. Europe is also strong in conducting clinical trials. Around 30 percent of clinical trials worldwide are performed in Europe, thus being on level with North America, including the United States. Within Europe itself, the subregions where most trials are conducted are Eastern Europe and Western Europe, with around 30 percent each. Once the trials are made, a drug must be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to be ready for market entry. During 2019 and 2020, most new active substances approved by EMA were in the areas of oncology, immunology, infectious diseases, or hematology.
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