Johnson & Johnson tops pharma rivals in 10-year test of R&D productivity

A new analysis provides some explanation for why Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and other companies live at the top of the industry food chain while others struggle to stay healthy. According to figures cited by Forbes, J&J beat the field of global pharma companies in a ranking based on FDA approvals of new drugs over the past 10 years.

While FDA approvals tell only part of the story of an R&D effort's overall success, the math shows that those companies with the most green lights for new drugs in the U.S. over the past 10 years are among the top performers on the business side today. J&J, for instance, has the largest pharma business in the world right now.

The industry still celebrates an FDA approval of a new drug like no other event. Based on figures Forbes reported from InnoThink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation, even large biopharma companies wait years between U.S. approvals, and only J&J, Pfizer ($PFE), Novartis ($NVS), and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) managed to garner one or more approvals per year since 2003.

Forbes' Matthew Herper presents some of the big-picture numbers in his piece. He reports a total of 278 new drugs approved by the FDA over the past 10 years, with just 41 companies capturing 63% of the approvals with two or more new-drug nods. Just like pharma R&D groups, not all new drugs are created equally. And it's unclear from the data presented how much of the success J&J and others had at the FDA can be attributed to savvy licensing deals and acquisitions. For instance, one of the stars in J&J's portfolio of new drugs is the prostate cancer therapy Zytiga, which the company acquired in its 2009 buyout of Cougar Biotechnology.

Below is a list of the top 10 companies in terms of FDA approvals over the past 10 years. We've added in parentheses the number of approvals from major acquisitions of the top 10 groups. You can do the math to see where Roche's ($RHHBY) buyout of Genentech and Pfizer's megamerger with Wyeth puts those companies on this list.

Johnson & Johnson 13 approvals
GlaxoSmithKline 11
Novartis 10
Pfizer 10 (acquired Wyeth, which had 3 approvals)
Bristol-Myers Squibb 9
Merck 9 (acquired Schering Plough, which had 3 approvals)
Roche 8 (acquired Genentech, which had 4 approvals)
Amgen 5
Bayer 5
Genzyme 5

Next on the list following Genzyme, which is now a unit of Sanofi ($SNY), of course, companies with four FDA approvals included AstraZeneca ($AZN), Shire ($SHPGY), Boehringer Ingelheim, CSL Behring, Forest, Eisai, Takeda, Eli Lilly ($LLY) and, as previously noted, Genentech.

- check out Herper's post

Special Report: FDA Approvals of 2012