Overview: The Pharmaceutical Industry

The United States is the world leader in pharmaceutical research, as suggested by data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The Industry is “one of the largest employers of scientists in the United States – and its success or failure relies heavily on their ability to make breakthroughs”, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics reports that this industry — as well the overlapping, interdisciplinary field of biotechnology — rank among the fastest growing industries in the United States.  Job growth through 2014 for these industries overall, and for numerous select occupations ranging from scientific positions to sales to office/administrative roles, is expected to far exceed the average growth for all industries combined, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The Pharmaceutical Industry Defined

The U.S. Pharmaceutical industry has achieved worldwide prominence through research and development (R&D) work on new drugs, and spends a relatively high proportion of its funds on R&D compared with other industries.  This industry has produced a variety of medicinal and other health-related products undreamed of by even the most imaginative apothecaries of the past.  These drugs save the lives of millions of people from various diseases and permit many ill people to lead normal lives.

The pharmaceutical industry consists of about 2,500 places of employment, located throughout the country.  These include establishments that make pharmaceutical preparations or finished drugs; biological products, such as serums, bulk chemicals and botanicals used in making finished drugs; and diagnostic substances such as pregnancy and blood glucose kits. Nearly 60% of all jobs in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry are in large establishments employing more than 500 workers, and earnings are much higher than those in other manufacturing industries.

The Biotechnology Industry Defined

Advances in biotechnology and information technology are also transforming drug discovery and development. For the purposes of this channel, we primarily emphasize biotechnology’s applications to the research and advancement of drug therapies for human subjects.  However, while many authorities tend to lump “Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology” together as a convenient shorthand to discuss some areas where the two may be  interconnected, most also acknowledge that referring to biotechnology as a distinct “industry” is something of a misnomer.  An inherently interdisciplinary field, biotechnology brings together professionals from disparate fields including information technology, the biological sciences, veterinary and agricultural research, and more.  The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) suggests the definition “a collection of technologies” that “capitalize on the attributes of cells, such as their manufacturing capabilities, and put biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, to work for us.”

In any case, within biotechnology, scientists have learned a great deal about both human and non-human genes, but the real work – translating that knowledge into both viable new drugs and non-drug therapies – is just beginning.  Many new drugs are expected to be developed in the coming years.  Where it once took 15 years to develop a new drug, advances in technology and the knowledge of how cells work have allowed researchers to shave years off that incubation period. New technology allows life scientists to test thousands of drug candidates in a single day.

According to BIO, there were 1,415 U.S. companies in this amorphous industry at the end of 2005, and there are more than 400 drugs and vaccines currently in clinical trials targeting diseases such as Alzheimer’s, AIDS, arthritis and diabetes.  Consumers are already enjoying biotechnology foods such as soybean and corn.  Many environmental biotechnology products are used to clean up hazardous wastes without the dependence on harmful chemicals.  DNA fingerprinting, another biotech process, has made a dramatic impact on forensic medicine, anthropology and wildlife management.


Jobs’ Growth and Outlook Summary

Because so many of the products generated in the biotechnology industry and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry are related to preventive or routine healthcare, rather than just illness, demand is expected to increase as the population expands.  Even during fluctuating economic conditions, there will be a market for over-the-counter and prescription drugs, including the diagnostics used in hospitals, laboratories, and homes; the vaccines used routinely on infants and children; analgesics and other symptom-easing drugs; and antibiotics and “miracle” drugs for life-threatening diseases.  The growing number of older people who will require more healthcare services will further stimulate demand – along with the growth of both public and private health insurance programs, which increasingly cover the cost of drugs and medicines.

Other factors expected to increase the demand for drugs include greater personal income, the rising health consciousness and expectations of the general public and a more industry-friendly regulatory environment that has streamlined the FDA approval process for “priority” drugs – those the FDA concludes are potentially life-saving treatments.

As a result, the number of wage and salary jobs in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is expected to increase by about 26 percent over the 2004-14 period, compared with 14 percent for all industries combined.   Specific needs exist for chemists and other scientists, as well as those with a science background to serve as pharmaceutical representatives.  More detailed information is available on the following pages of this channel.