The pharmaceutical industry in the UK

Scientist using a microscope

​Until now, the UK has had particular strengths in preclinical research, pharmacology and early clinical pharmacology studies, but this position may be gradually eroding.

The decline in skills among young people training for careers in science has a serious effect on the development of a knowledge-based industry. Apart from developing a more science-focused education system, there is a need for improved tax incentives and better regulation, so that pharmaceutical companies can enjoy a business environment where research can flourish.

European Medicines Agency

Britain hosts the headquarters of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Union's body for the licensing of new medicines, and has played a leading role in developing European regulatory activities. Medicines research has, however, become a truly global enterprise and this favourable situation will not be maintained without significant changes to strengthen Britain's appeal.

UK Clinical Research Collaboration

The UK Clinical Research Collaboration ( was established in 2004. It is a partnership between industry, Government, professional bodies, the health service and research funding medical charities that support clinical research in the UK. This initiative can be seen as a recognition of the need to strengthen the funding, co-ordination and execution of both academic and clinical research in this country, to ensure that Britain remains an attractive venue for medicines research. For more information visit Clinical research and late phase clinical trials.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials have always been a vital part of the medicine development process, as they provide data on the best ways of treating diseases. Britain has made a significant contribution to this, and continues to do so. With a high concentration of research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, leading centres of academic medicine, and a long history of pioneering research, Britain is the leading venue in Europe for running the complex and often multinational studies needed to develop new medicines.

Contribution to the British economy

As well as providing new medicines for many diseases, the pharmaceutical industry makes a substantial contribution to the British economy, providing income, employment and major investment. The pharmaceutical sector has, over the past decade, consistently generated a large trade surplus for the UK – at £5 billion per annum, according to the latest figures. This is greater than any
other industrial sector in the UK1.

The UK’s pharmaceutical sector invests approximately £13.3 million every day in R&D2. There was more R&D investment performed in the pharmaceutical sector than any other sector in 2011, representing 28% of all expenditure on R&D in UK businesses2.

The pharmaceutical industry employs around 68,000 people directly in the UK – 23,000 of those are in highly-skilled research and development roles3. In addition, the industry generates thousands of jobs in related industries. The pharmaceutical industry carries out more research by far than any other industry sector in the UK, bringing major health benefits to patients in Britain and all over the world.

For further information of what the pharmaceutical industry is doing to further improve the development of medicines visit the Future of medicines research section.


  1. HM Revenue and Customs, UK Trade Info 2012, February 2013
  2. ONS, Business Enterprise Research and Development 2010, November 2012
  3. OHE calculations based on ONS, Business Enterprise Research and
    Development (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), accessed March 2013



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