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Behind the scenes: the most important global industry

16 Nov, 2022

Consider this. The world of medicine is a stage play. Who is the playwright? The producer? The director? Medical professors, universities, and researchers. Who are the actors? Doctors and nurses. The audience? Patients from different walks of life sit on velveteen seats, enraptured by a splendid (sometimes confusing) performance. 

But, up there on the balconies are the people who make or break the show. Who are they? The critics. And in what form do these critics present themselves in medicine? Pharmaceutical companies.

The business of medicine

The business of medicine is enormous. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how ‘big pharma’ controls the production and distribution of essential medicines. The nexus between power and pharma shows how pharma companies make billions while the poorest in the world remain unvaccinated. 

Though these are just a few bad (albeit enormously sized) apples. The business of medicine is uplifted by the presence of nonprofits, universities, and conscientious government departments. These are the people that help medicines reach those that need them the most. Pharmaceutical global trade volume stood at $667 billion in 2020. By every estimate, pharmaceuticals are one of the top exported products in the world.

Pharmaceutical export analysis

Most top medicine manufacturers operate in Europe and North America. This makes countries and companies in these regions top medicine producers. The World Health Organization (WHO) is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Pharma companies in Europe use this proximity to lobby regulations. The famed automaker, Germany, is also the top pharmaceutical exporter in Europe and the world. Although Asian players like India and China are making great headways in becoming the leaders in generic medicines. Access this free version of pharmaceutical export data.

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Top export countries

1. Germany ($99.5 billion)

2. Switzerland ($77.9 billion)

3. Ireland ($67 billion)

4. United States ($60.4 billion)

5. Belgium ($44.4 billion)

Pharmaceutical import analysis

Though Europe corners production, the biggest market for pharmaceuticals is the United States of America. The US is also a major producer of pharmaceuticals but most of its produce is meant for the domestic market. Mass commercialization of medicines in the US is a pressing concern. Only recently, a ‘big pharma’ company was charged with overpromoting their pain-relief medication and fuelling an opioid crisis that has claimed thousands of lives.

Top import countries

1. United States ($134 billion)

2. Germany ($60.5 billion)

3. Switzerland ($39 billion)

4. Belgium ($35.7 billion)

5. China ($30.8 billion) 

Pharma: The low-down

Manufacturers must focus on selling their medicines to the countries that need them the most. Not those who can pay the most. The new world order of the internet demands transparency in all spheres of business. Governments must look to engage with pharma producers on a minute level. With the internet has come the extreme sophistication of marketing. This is another area that demands strict oversight and regulation on the part of government agencies.