Drug delivery: pharmaceuticals industry career guide for graduate engineers

If you want to put your engineering skills towards helping to tackle deadly diseases then the pharmaceutical sector offers a range of options.

Why work in pharmaceuticals?

It offers the opportunity to tackle some of the world’s most serious diseases

The UK is Europe’s third largest drug manufacturer by value.

Around one in five of the world’s top medicines were discovered and developed in Britain – more than any other country other than the US, and as much the whole of the rest of Europe combined.

Leading companies such as AstraZeneca claim that their skills and resources are concentrated in the places they believe we can make the most difference to human life, including tackling cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disorders. And you could be helping make a real difference in these sectors.

Skills in pharmaceuticals are transferable and highly valued

AstraZeneca PLC
Engineering skills are highly valued by pharmaceutical companies

As a chemical or process engineer in the industry, you could find yourself spoilt for choice with career progression rapid and roles varied. Job requirements do not usually differ too much overseas,  making international employment a realistic possibility.

It is a lucrative industry which values innovation

When it comes to manufacturing the UK is ranked third out of 30 European countries in terms of value of pharmaceuticals produced – £15,700 million. Overall, the industry invests an incredible £12.5m every day in research and development.

What does the sector do?

It creates new products that save millions of lives worldwide

AstraZeneca PLC
New products and processes are vital to the pharmaceutical business.

The pharmaceutical industry takes basic research in chemicals and compounds and turns this knowledge into the manufacture of life-saving treatments. It’s constantly looking for new solutions. In July, for instance, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Research and Development LLC, Lilly, Pfizer, Takeda and UCB each offered up a number of their deprioritised molecules for use in new studies to improve our understanding of a range of diseases, with a view to developing more effective treatments.

It is a key driver of research and development in the UK

The sector accounts for one quarter of all UK industrial research and development, Of the 68,000 people directly employed by the sector in the UK, 23,000 are employed in highly skilled research and development roles.

In pharmaceuticals, clinical research is the longest and often the most expensive stage in the process of developing new medicines. However, if you get involved in this type role, it also has the potential, however, to be one of the most exciting and rewarding areas of the industry

What kind of jobs are on offer?

AstraZeneca PLC
Engineering roles in pharmaceuticals include developing and planning production technologies.

The largest demand for graduates is pharmaceuticals is research and development. Chemical engineering roles can range from product design, to testing and development. There are also process engineering roles that look after the long term planning of a production line or plant. They monitor process variables and update process control systems.

‘In the past 12 months we have recruited graduates into 10 countries via our recruitment schemes, and some of our graduate programmes can also include international assignments,’ said a spokesman for AstraZeneca. ‘We look for people with top class qualifications, equivalent to a minimum 2:1 in the UK, and technical skills that are relevant to the programme area. Ideally they will have also had some previous work experience or an internship in industry.’

GlaxoSmithKline says that it looks for empowered people who appreciate the importance of safety and quality. ‘You should also be able to bring commercial insight and work across functions, businesses and geographic boundaries,’ the company says.

As well as this, you should aim to have a good first degree, usually including an industrial placement, or a postgraduate qualification.

And where are the jobs located?

AstraZeneca PLC
Several major international pharma firms have bases in the UK

The UK is home to GlaxoSmithKline with headquarters in Brentford and London-based AstraZeneca , respectively the world’s fifth- and sixth-largest pharmaceutical companies measured by 2009 market share. Foreign companies with a major presence in the UK pharmaceutical industry include Pfizer in Surrey and Novartis in areas including Horsham, Grimbsy and Liverpool.

British pharma industry also has major clusters of pharmaceutical companies in the north-east, north-west, south-east and east of England, and a significant number in Scotland. Many of these companies also have operations globally, so there may be opportunities to travel or be relocated abroad.

For instance, as well as London, AstraZeneca is located across Europe, USA and Asia. In the UK, the group has research and development facilities in Alderley Park and Macclesfield, and it is currently investing in a new research centre within the Cambridge Biomedical Campu

If you want the inside track on engineering jobs in other industries, take a look at our full list of sector guides.