Which companies of today will stand the test of time? There's a pretty good chance the list will include several big drugmakers. They're able to invest billions of dollars in the research and development necessary to remain relevant over the long term. 

We asked three Motley Fool contributors which pharma stocks they think are ones that you can buy and hold forever. Here's why they picked Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ).

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You can sleep easy with this drugmaker 

Prosper Junior Bakiny (Bristol Myers Squibb): Finding businesses that can stand the test of time is a challenging task. An excellent place to start is by looking at those companies that have been around a while. Pharma giant Bristol Myers Squibb fits the bill. This drugmaker's history dates back to well over 100 years, making it part of a very exclusive clique. But the past is the past, and it isn't necessarily indicative of what will happen in the future.

Fortunately, there are more than enough reasons to believe Bristol Myers still has many lucrative years ahead. Consider the company's lineup of drugs, which features no less than eight blockbuster products. That's impressive, and most of these drugs are still growing their revenue by double-digit percentages. The company's top three medicines, multiple myeloma drug Revlimid, anticoagulant Eliquis, and cancer drug Opdivo, increased their sales by 11%, 29%, and 16% year over year, respectively, during the second quarter.

It is also worth looking at Bristol Myers' pipeline, which boasts more than 50 clinical compounds in development and dozens of ongoing clinical trials. Regulatory wins are practically routine for this pharma giant. Thanks to label expansions and new approvals, it can replenish its lineup of drugs as patent protection runs out on older products. 

This dynamic ensures that Bristol Myers will continue growing its revenue and earnings at a good clip. That's good news for its stock performance, and it will also help it maintain its good dividend record. The company currently offers a yield of 3.39% -- much higher than the S&P 500's yield of 1.38%. Bristol Myers has increased its dividends by 19.5% in the past three years, and with a conservative cash payout ratio of 36.3%, it can afford aggressive dividend hikes. 

Bristol Myers' shares are currently dirt cheap, trading at just 7.8 times forward earnings, compared to a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 13.3 for the pharma industry. At these levels, Bristol Myers looks like a screaming buy. And while there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way, investors who stick it out and hold the company's shares for a while will be handsomely rewarded.

Pfizer is much more than just a COVID-19 stock

David Jagielski: Pfizer expects to generate $33.5 billion this year just from its COVID-19 vaccine. And given that the pandemic still doesn't look to be over, there's little doubt that the vaccine will bring in more money for the business beyond 2021. However, Pfizer has a lot more to offer investors than just its vaccine.

In its second-quarter results, Pfizer's sales grew 86% to $19 billion largely due to COVID-19 vaccine sales. Even if you factor out vaccine sales, the business still grew at a rate of 10% as the company has many fast-growing drugs in its portfolio. Sales of its heart disease medication, Vyndaqel and Vyndamax, rose by 81% in Q2 to $501 million. Cancer drug Inlyta generated revenue growth of 32% to $257 million. Even Eliquis, which prevents blood clots and is one of Pfizer's top-selling drugs, grew at a solid rate of 16% to just under $1.5 billion.

Investors can expect a lot more growth from Pfizer moving forward. In August, the company announced a $2.3 billion acquisition of immuno-oncology company Trillium Therapeutics, which will advance its hematology pipeline. As of July 28, Pfizer had 100 programs in its pipeline, 22 of which were in phase 3 trials and 10 that were in the process of registration. The company also recently announced that it would begin trials of an mRNA-based flu vaccine

But as promising as all this is, even more opportunities will undoubtedly open up for Pfizer to expand its pipeline. With more than $20 billion in free cash flow over the past 12 months and the company sitting on another $22 billion in cash and short-term investments, Pfizer is in an excellent position to invest in its business for the long haul, which includes potentially taking on more acquisitions.

Any new deals will complement an already strong business. Today, Pfizer runs an efficient operation, banking 24% of revenue as profit over the past 12 months. On top of all that, it also pays a dividend yield of 3.6% that is well above the S&P 500 average of less than 1.3%.

There's a lot to like about Pfizer's business, which is why this is an easy stock to buy and hold for the rest of your life.

Think big, big, big  

Keith Speights (Johnson & Johnson): Johnson & Johnson isn't just a big pharma stock. It's also a big consumer-health stock and a big medical-device stock. Each of J&J's three business segments is a multibillion-dollar business that ranks among the global leaders in their respective markets.

However, the pharmaceuticals segment is Johnson & Johnson's biggest business. It's the company's strongest growth driver as well, generating nearly 70% of J&J's total revenue growth in the third quarter. 

Johnson & Johnson's diversification and size give it unmatched stability in the healthcare sector. The company claims a whopping 28 platforms or products that made at least $1 billion in sales last year. Roughly 70% of its sales come from products with a No. 1 or No. 2 market share worldwide. 

The healthcare giant should make in the ballpark of $93 billion this year. Its adjusted profits could easily top $25 billion. That gives Johnson & Johnson the financial flexibility to invest heavily in research and development, and strategic acquisitions. Its pharmaceutical pipeline includes 58 key late-stage programs.

J&J still has plenty of cash left over to fund its dividend program as well. The company reigns as a Dividend King with 59 consecutive years of dividend increases.

Since its founding in 1886, Johnson & Johnson has weathered many crises. This big healthcare leader should have staying power for the future, too. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.