Types of Pharma Companies

Pharmaceutical companies research, develop and distribute drugs and medical equipment.
Pharmaceutical companies research, develop and distribute drugs and medical equipment. (Image: pharmaceutics image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com)

The pharmaceutical industry consists of companies that research,develop, manufacture and distribute medicinal drugs, medical devices and medical technology. While Pfizer, Merck and Bristol-Meyers Squibb are among the largest and most well-known pharmaceutical companies, the industry includes many companies, large and small, that handle various stages of medical product development.


Mainline pharmaceutical companies are the big, established firms that own patents on drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are for sale. Most have plants and laboratories spread throughout the world, allowing them to research and develop new drugs while manufacturing and distributing the ones already on the market.

Research and Development

Small pharmaceutical companies devote most of their energies to research and development as they don't have approved drugs on the market. Their aim may be to join the ranks of the mainline companies by developing and patenting their own blockbuster medicinal products, or they may contract their research and development services out to the mainline companies.


Generic pharmaceutical companies are the least involved in research and development. They manufacture and distribute already-established drugs that are no longer protected by patents and make them available at a cheaper price than name-brand drugs.

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