The chance to work with cutting edge technology in companies leading global research, and be well remunerated too, makes these industries appealing.
The pharmaceuticals (pharma) industry is reliant on multi-disciplinary, cutting-edge research to produce unique, innovative products, and on large teams of sales people backed up by sophisticated marketing skills. The British pharma industry has a strong reputation for research and development (R&D) of the very highest quality and there are major clusters of pharmaceutical companies in the north-east, north-west, south-east and east of England, and a significant number in Scotland. The industry recruits graduates for a wide range of functions (both science and non-science areas) and employs just under 70,000 people in the UK, of whom around 27,000 are directly involved in R&D. The industry is one of Britain’s leading manufacturing sectors and many international companies have established highly-regarded research laboratories here. However, there are huge pressures on the industry and developing new drugs is particularly difficult as any obvious ones have already been made. Furthermore, patents usually last 20 years, after which any company can produce a far cheaper generic version of a drug. The cost of producing new medicines is so colossal that one failure can have devastating consequences for a company.
The biotechnology (biotech) industry is a newer sector. Biotechnology is the application of biological systems to solve problems, improve processes and develop and manufacture products. Biotech companies exist in a number of industrial sectors, which include: biomedical, food and agriculture, and environmental. The UK leads Europe in the industrial development of biotechnology and during the past decade there has been rapid and sustained growth in the number of specialist biotechnology R&D-based companies. Indeed, since 2016 there has been a 65% increase in the number of UK biotechs (Pharmafocus, April 2019), which has been fuelled by record investment levels. Currently there are just over 3,400 UK biotechs and London hosts the highest number (nearly a quarter), followed by Cambridge and then Oxford. Depending on their size, biotech companies may use support companies, to whom they contract out some aspects of their work, such as the development or marketing of their products.