Mar 5, 2020 - Health

Big Pharma is on a stock buyback spree

Data: Company filings; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Company filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

In 2018, the year the Republican tax law went into full effect, 12 of the largest pharmaceutical companies spent more money buying back their stock than they spent on drug research and development.

The big picture: When billions of dollars became available to the biggest drug companies, their main priority was to juice earnings, along with the paydays of their executives and investors — not investments in new treatments or relief for patients who can't afford their drugs.

By the numbers: Axios analyzed the stock buybacks and R&D expenses of the 12 largest American pharmaceutical companies, by revenue, between 2016 and 2019.

  • These companies repurchased $69.1 billion of their stock in 2018, while spending $65.9 billion on researching new medicines.
  • Over the entire four-year period, stock buybacks for these 12 companies totaled $183 billion, and research expenses were $251 billion. They're sitting on another $47 billion that has been earmarked for stock buybacks.
  • Two drugmakers — Amgen and Biogen — spent more on stock buybacks for the entire period than they spent on R&D. Amgen's stock repurchases ($31.6 billion) were more than twice as much as research ($15.3 billion).

What they're saying: Amgen said in a statement that it repurchased large quantities of stock because the tax law allowed the company to bring home cash that was parked overseas. Biogen submitted a statement saying it has a "deep commitment to R&D," but did not address questions about its stock buybacks.

Go deeper: See the company-by-company analysis

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