The UK pharmaceutical industry has a dynamic working environment with the challenges, opportunities and incentives that you'd expect from one of the UK's biggest industries.
The pharmaceutical industry is a major recruiter in the UK directly employing around 73,000 people. As there are still thousands of diseases for which we have no cure, the work of the pharmaceutical industry will continue to be essential for the foreseeable future. This gives great potential for long-term employment and career progression both within the UK and globally, with global health and life science markets predicted to grow up to 10% per year in the next decade.
If you ask anyone who works in the pharmaceutical industry what their main motivation is, it's more than likely you'll hear the same answer: improving people's lives. As the benefits of new medicines are felt by people all over the world, not many jobs offer you more of a chance to do this. Such an environment brings great job satisfaction, whether you’re working on a cost-saving device, marketing tool, or discovering a new chemical compound that has the potential to save someone's life. After all, it's all part of the same process.
Jobs in the pharmaceutical industry are typically well paid and often come with other benefits such as bonuses, medical insurance, pension plans and transport loans.
Within the industry holiday allowance and parental leave are normally good, and there is often the option of flexible working hours. Many companies promote sports and social activities and charity events. This makes for a sociable environment with a healthy balance between life inside and outside work resulting in lively and enthusiastic employees.
To find out more about what it’s like to work in the industry browse through the Case Studies section.
Who works in pharmaceuticals?
Hear from two scientists on why they decided to join the industry.
Hello, my name is Suki Balendra and I'm the Life Sciences Lead for the NIHR Clinical Research Network. And the NIHR is the National Institute of Health Research. So I'm based at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
And my role involves working with the life sciences industry, which I'm extremely passionate about. I have the opportunity to work with industry from the NHS perspective across organisational boundaries. We share ideas and expertise.
And the main aspect of my role is promoting the Northwest London region to the life sciences industry to showcase the expertise and the opportunities in working in our region.
So a typical day for me involves working with a company perhaps meeting a new company that I have not met before. They could be a large life sciences company, or a small biotech company.
And the format of the meeting if we've never met before would be to meet representatives from the company, alongside my colleagues from the partner organisations within our region so that could be staff from the research and development teams within the trust and clinical leads from across the organisations. And we work regionally together to showcase what we can do in a region and showcase the opportunities and working within our area.
So socially, it's a great place to work, we have quizzes and various opportunities for us to socially interact. Of course, things have been difficult in the pandemic but we have tried to ensure we maintain that contact, even if it's online and where restrictions have eased and where we've been allowed to I've always taken the opportunity to meet colleagues face to face whether it be for coffee or for lunch, because I believe it is so important to keep that face to face contact as much as possible with the people that we work with.
So I've been in my current role in one shape or form for the NIHR for just under 15 years.
And my qualifications and experience started with a BSc in biochemistry I then went straight on to do a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Warwick and my first role of the graduating was straight into industry. So in a manufacturing environment. I worked for Abbott diagnostics for just under five years. And it was there that my interest in process improvement in a manufacturing settings started and I was able to carry on that interest through into clinical research and academia and that is where my passion really grew for working with the life sciences industry.
I decided on a career in the pharmaceutical industry quite early on whilst I was doing my PhD at the time. The feeling was that it was really important to get straight into industry. And I felt that was the right path for me rather than pursuing an academic career path. Although in the end, I ended up working in academia again, I'm very fortunate to have ended up in a role that I really get the benefits of working both in industry and NHS and academia.
I also had the really privileged experience of spending a year in central government so I was working in the office for Life Sciences for one year. And that gave me the opportunity to really see the policy development from government and how that develops and cascades down into the NHS.
And so some of the policies that I was involved in working on in the office for Life Sciences when I went back to my role in the NHS, I was able to be involved in the implementation of that policy at a local level.
And that was a hugely rewarding experience.
Suki Balendra, PhD, Life Sciences Lead at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust tells us about her role, qualifications, experience and why she decided to join the pharmaceutical industry.
Oh, hello, I'm Luisa Freitas Dos Santos and I lead the global clinical supply chain at GSK. So what that means in that role is that I lead the team that is responsible for the manufacture and the management of clinical supplies that feed into all our ongoing clinical trials and that covers all the therapeutic areas and also the from the early Phase Is right through to submission. And just to give an idea of the scale, so that means really supporting hundreds of clinical studies in that are taking place at any moment in time in about 60 countries around the world with 1000s of patients enrolled.
Well I'm a chemical engineer by training so I did my first degree in Portugal and then after a brief work experience in the Netherlands I came to the UK to do my PhD in Chemical Engineering again at Imperial College in London. And the topic was the design and modelling of bio reactors to treat very toxic volatile organic compounds. And I was it was really interested in the topic and in the environmental sustainability.
And I decided to stay on as a postdoc, and to pursue the translation of that idea into a practical application and to really deploy it in the in the real world. And I was very lucky to be one of the cofounders of a start-up company based on that research that really took that idea and scaled it and I think that relates to something that was a passion that initiated and stayed with me until today. Which is the translation of a research idea into practical application make it work and if you think about even the medicines that we work on an idea in the lab starts very small, starts with a molecule and then can end up as a medicine that millions of patients take. So that is still the idea from that initial experience, that is still a passion of mine today.
So I did not start at the outset thinking that I'm going to the pharmaceutical industry. I was very interested in environmental engineering and sustainability perhaps at the time that it was not as popular and talked about as it is today. But I was very keen on pursuing the design of bioreactors that could really be used using natural cells to treat some very toxic compounds. And at the same time that I was doing my PhD and postdoc, the group and the colleagues I worked with actually were using similar bio reactors to produce some of the components to make new treatments, new medicines. I got really fascinated by looking at how we could then use engineering chemical engineering to not only to deal with the environmental impact, but actually to use this bio reactors treatment medicine. And so when a job came up advertised a GSK, in R&D. I did apply not knowing anything about the pharma industry, not knowing that I was going to stay for such a long time and this was almost 35 years ago. But the concept of actually having an idea in the lab and then innovate and translate it into something that millions of patients can take. It was fascinating, then, and still is today.
Luisa Freitas Dos Santos PhD FREng, VP Global Clinical Supply Chain, GSK, tells us about her role, qualifications, experience and why she decided to join the pharmaceutical industry.
Last modified: 30 May 2023
Last reviewed: 30 May 2023