The pharmaceutical industry in the United Kingdom directly employs around 73,000 people and in 2007 contributed £8.4 billion to the UK's GDP and invested a total of £3.9 billion in research and development.[1][2] In 2007 exports of pharmaceutical products from the UK totalled £14.6 billion, creating a trade surplus in pharmaceutical products of £4.3 billion.[3]

UK Pharmaceutical employment of 73,000 in 2017[4] compares to 114,000 as of 2015 in Germany,[5] 92,000 as of 2014 in France[6] and 723,000 in the European Union as a whole.[6] In the United States 281,440 people work in pharmaceutical industry as of 2016.[7]

The UK is home to GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively the world's fifth- and sixth-largest pharmaceutical companies measured by 2009 market share.[8] It is also home to the multinational Hikma Pharmaceuticals. Foreign companies with a major presence in the UK pharmaceutical industry include Pfizer, Novartis,[9] Hoffmann–La Roche and Eisai. One in five of the world's biggest-selling prescription drugs were developed in the UK.[10]


Beecham's Clock Tower, constructed in 1877 as part of the Beecham factory in St Helens

19th century

In 1833, John Duncan and William Flockhart became partners in what grew into Duncan, Flockhart and Company and began manufacturing drugs in Edinburgh. In 1847, Flockhart supplied chloroform to Dr (later Sir) James Young Simpson for his anaesthesia experiment and it started to be used in obstetrics. It was exhibited in London in 1851, supplied to Florence Nightingale and given royal approval,[11] and by 1895, to 750,000 doses per week in use.[12] The firm grew but eventually merged into the Glaxo organisation.[11]

In 1842 Thomas Beecham established the Beecham's Pills laxative business, which would later become the Beecham Group.[13] By 1851 UK-based patent medicine companies had combined domestic revenues of around £250,000.[14] Beecham opened Britain's first modern drugs factory in St Helens in 1859.[13] Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs formed a partnership in September 1880, and established an office in Snow Hill in Central London.[15] The London Wholesale Drug and Chemical Protection Society was formed in 1867, which became the Drug Club in 1891, the forerunner of the present-day Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.[14] In 1883 Burroughs Wellcome & Co. opened their first factory, at Bell Lane Wharf in Wandsworth, utilising compressed medicine tablet-making machinery acquired from Wyeth of the United States.[15] Burroughs Wellcome & Co. established its first overseas branch in Sydney in 1898.[15]

20th century

The Glaxo department of Joseph Nathan and Co was established in London in 1908.[16] Glaxo Laboratories Ltd absorbed Joseph Nathan and Co in 1947 and was listed on the London Stock Exchange in the same year.[16] In order to satisfy regulations then in place in the UK on the importation of medicines, Pfizer established a compounding operation in Folkestone, Kent in Autumn 1952.[17] Pfizer acquired an 80-acre site on the outskirts of Sandwich in 1954 to enable the expansion of its Kent-based activities.[17] Glaxo acquired Allen and Hanburys Ltd. in 1958.[16] Glaxo acquired EPI which was successor of Duncan, Flockhart and Company and Macfarlan Smith in 1962.[11] In 1981 the bacterial infection treatment Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanate potassium) was launched by Beecham; the anti-ulcer treatment Zantac (ranitidine) was launched by Glaxo; and the antiviral herpes treatment Zovirax (aciclovir) was launched by Wellcome.[16]

In 1991 SmithKline Beecham launched Seroxat/Paxil (paroxetine hydrochloride).[16] In June 1993 Imperial Chemical Industries demerged its pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals businesses, forming Zeneca Group plc.[18] In 1995 Glaxo opened a major research and development facility in Stevenage, constructed at a cost of £700 million.[19] In March 1995 the £9 billion acquisition of Wellcome by Glaxo was completed, forming Glaxo Wellcome, in what was the largest merger in UK corporate history to date.[20] BASF completed the acquisition of the pharmaceutical division of The Boots Company in April 1995.[21] In 1997 SmithKline Beecham opened a major new research centre at New Frontiers Science Park in Harlow, Essex.[16] In 1999 Zeneca Group plc and Sweden-based Astra AB merged to form AstraZeneca plc.[22] Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham announced their intention to merge in January 2000, with the merger completing in December of that year, forming GlaxoSmithKline plc.[23]

21st century

In February 2001 the Novartis Respiratory Research Centre, the largest single-site respiratory research centre in the world, opened in Horsham.[24] In May 2006 AstraZeneca agreed to buy Cambridge Antibody Technology, then the largest UK-based biotechnology company, for £702 million.[25][26] In April 2007 AstraZeneca agreed to acquire the U.S.-based biotechnology company MedImmune for $15.6 billion.[27] In April 2009 GlaxoSmithKline agreed to acquire Stiefel Laboratories, then the world's largest independent dermatology company, for US$3.6 billion.[28] In June 2009 Eisai opened a major new research and development and manufacturing facility in Hatfield, constructed at a cost of over £100 million.[29][30][31] In November 2009 GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer combined their respective AIDS divisions into one London-based company, ViiV Healthcare.[32] On 1 February 2011 Pfizer announced that it would be closing its entire research and development facility at Sandwich, Kent within 18–24 months with the loss of 2,400 jobs, as part of a company-wide plan to reduce its spending on research and development.[33][34][35]

In March 2013 AstraZeneca announced plans for a major corporate restructuring, including the closure of its research and development activities at Alderley Park, investment of $500 million in the construction of a new research and development facility in Cambridge, and the move of its corporate headquarters from London to Cambridge in 2016.[36][37]

The amount of funding received by UK life science companies reached a 10-year high in 2014.[38][39]

Research and development

The world headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline in Brentford, London

In 2007 the UK had the third-highest share of global pharmaceutical Research and development (R&D) expenditure of any nation, with 9% of the total, behind the United States (49%) and Japan (15%).[40][41] The UK has the largest pharmaceutical R&D expenditure of any European nation, accounting for 23% of the total; followed by France (20%), Germany (19%), and Switzerland (11%).[40]

Top 25 UK investors in pharmaceuticals & biotechnology R&D - 2009/10[42]
Companya R&D spendingb (£m)
1 GlaxoSmithKline 3,629.00
2 AstraZeneca 2,745.68
3 Shire 346.71
4 Pfizer UK 325.66
5 Roche Products 208.44
6 Eisai Europe 151.13
7 Brinton Healthcare UK Ltd 140.13
8 Eli Lilly and Company 130.21
9 Amgen 127.06
10 Merial 102.42
11 Novartis Pharmaceuticals 90.27
12 John Wyeth & Brother 60.33
13 Bristol-Myers Squibb 55.49
14 Janssen 54.37
15 PowderMed 45.57
16 Aventis Pharma 44.92
17 Allergan 37.40
18 Organon Laboratories 36.78
19 Vectura 36.40
20 Antisoma 35.77
21 Boehringer Ingelheim 29.29
22 Genus 28.60
23 BTG 27.00
24 Servier R&D 25.10
25 Ipsen Developments 23.97
26 Renovo 18.07

a Italicised company name: ultimate parent is not UK-based

b Where parent company is UK-based: worldwide R&D spending; other companies: R&D spending in UK only


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (May 2011)

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the UK government agency which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work and are acceptably safe.[43]

Global Justice Now and Stop AIDS Campaign published a report claiming patients could not always afford drugs where the public sector had partly funded research to develop those drugs. The report claims, "In many cases, the UK taxpayer effectively pays twice for medicines: first through investing in R&D, and then by paying high prices for the resulting medicine once ownership has been transferred to a private company." Richard Sullivan of King's College London, said some drug companies price their drugs correctly but others "vastly overprice" their drugs. There are calls for government action to discourage overpricing.[44]

See also


  1. ^ "Did you know?: Facts and figures about the pharmaceutical industry in the UK - Second edition 2011" (PDF). The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  2. ^ "Gordon Brown plans tonic for pharmaceutical industry". The Times. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  3. ^ "Facts & Statistics from the pharmaceutical industry". The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Archived from the original on 18 September 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  4. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Alles über die Pharmabranche in Deutschland".
  6. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 May 2017. Retrieved 26 February 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing - May 2017 OES Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates".
  8. ^ "Top world pharmaceutical corporations". The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  9. ^ "Facts and Figures". Novartis UK. Archived from the original on 19 September 2008. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  10. ^ "British regulator calls for drug pricing overhaul". International Herald Tribune. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  11. ^ a b c "Duncan, Flockhart and Co - Graces Guide". Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  12. ^ Worling, P.M. (1998). "Duncan and Flockhart: the Story of Two Men and a Pharmacy". Pharmaceutical Historian. 28 (2): 28–33. PMID 11620310 – via PMID.
  13. ^ a b "Drug giants in their own right". BBC News. 24 February 1998. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  14. ^ a b Lesley Richmond; Julie Stevenson; Alison Turton (2003), The pharmaceutical industry: a guide to historical records, London, UK: Ashgate Publishing, ISBN 9780754633525, retrieved 25 May 2011
  15. ^ a b c "The birth and growth of Burroughs Wellcome & Co". Wellcome Trust. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Our history". GlaxoSmithKline plc. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  17. ^ a b "Pfizer's history 1949-55". Pfizer UK. Archived from the original on 8 December 2010. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  18. ^ "Merger partners in brief". AstraZeneca plc. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  19. ^ "Ministers fear Glaxo merger could damage drug industry". The Independent. 9 February 1998. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  20. ^ "Profile: Glaxo Wellcome". BBC News. 17 January 2000. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  21. ^ "Lawsuit Says Companies Suppressed Drug Study". The New York Times. 19 May 1997. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  22. ^ "History". AstraZeneca plc. Archived from the original on 17 December 2010. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  23. ^ "Pharmaceutical giants Glaxo and SmithKline finally merge". Reuters. 27 December 2000. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  24. ^ "Novartis opens the world's largest centre for respiratory research in Horsham, UK". Chem Europe. 28 February 2001. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  25. ^ "AstraZeneca pays high price to fill drugs chest with £700m CAT deal". The Independent. 16 May 2006. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  26. ^ "AstraZeneca agrees £702m Cambridge deal". The Times. 15 May 2006. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  27. ^ "AstraZeneca agrees to buy MedImmune". Reuters. 23 April 2007. Archived from the original on 17 October 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  28. ^ "GlaxoSmithKline buys Stiefel for $3.6bn". The Telegraph. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  29. ^ "Work starts on £100m drug firm HQ". BBC News. 6 March 2007. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  30. ^ "Author backing Alzheimer's research". St Albans & Harpenden Review. 26 June 2009. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  31. ^ "European Knowledge Centre". Eisai Co., Ltd. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  32. ^ "AIDS Divisions of 2 Large Drug Makers Form Company to Focus on the Disease". The New York Times. 9 November 2009. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  33. ^ "Drug giant Pfizer to pull out of Kent". Kent Online. 1 February 2011. Archived from the original on 10 June 2012. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  34. ^ "Pfizer to shut major Sandwich site, home of Viagra". Reuters. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  35. ^ "Thousands of jobs to go as Pfizer looks to slash R&D spend". Nature. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  36. ^ "AstraZeneca to axe 1,600 jobs in overhaul of drug R&D". Reuters. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  37. ^ "AstraZeneca cuts UK headcount and moves to Cambridge". Times Higher Education. 19 March 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  38. ^ "The UK is finally catching up with US in biotech investment - venture capital funding more than doubled last year". CityAM. 9 July 2015. Retrieved 10 July 2015. Big push for London
  39. ^ "A 10 Year Horizon – 2014 and 2015 Setting New Records in UK Biotech Financing via Capital Markets and Venture Capital". Evaluate and BIA. 9 July 2015. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  40. ^ a b "The Pharmaceutical sector in the UK". Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Archived from the original on 12 December 2012. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  41. ^ "Ministerial Industry Strategy Group - Pharmaceutical Industry: Competitiveness and Performance Indicators" (PDF). Department of Health. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 January 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  42. ^ "The Top 1,000 UK and 1,000 Global Companies by R&D Investment" (PDF). Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 December 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  43. ^ "The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry - Fourth Report of Session 2004–05" (PDF). United Kingdom Parliament. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
  44. ^ Taxpayer-funded drugs 'too expensive for patients’ BBC

Further reading