The roots of the pharmaceutical industry lie back with the apothecaries and pharmacies that offered traditional remedies as far back as the middle ages, offering a hit-and-miss range of treatments based on centuries of folk knowledge.

But the industry as we understand it today really has its origins in the second half of the 19th century. The scientific revolution of the 17th century spread ideas of rationalism and experimentation, and the industrial revolution transformed the production of goods in the late 18th century, The marrying of the two concepts for the benefit of human health was a comparatively late development.

The first medicines were plants:

  • The first prescribed botanical therapeutic was Digitalis purpurea, a known herbal remedy studied for dose range and toxicities by William Withering
  • Withering officially described his foxglove prescription in1785
  • Digitalis, the active ingredient from the purple foxglove, is still often used for controlling heart rate

19th century

In 1842 Thomas Beecham established the Beecham's Pills laxative business, which would later become the Beecham Group. By 1851 UK-based patent medicine companies had combined domestic revenues of around £250,000. Beecham opened Britain's first modern drugs factory in St Helens in 1859. Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs formed a partnership in September 1880, and established an office in central London. 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. In 1883 Burroughs Wellcome & Co. opened their first factory in Wandsworth, utilising compressed medicine tablet-making machinery.

20th century

The Glaxo department of Joseph Nathan and Co was established in London in 1908. Glaxo Laboratories Ltd absorbed Joseph Nathan and Co in 1947 and was listed on the London Stock Exchange. To satisfy regulations then in place in the UK on the importation of medicines, Pfizer established a compounding operation in Folkestone, Kent in 1952 Pfizer acquired an 80-acre site on the outskirts of Sandwich in 1954 to enable the expansion of its Kent-based activities. Glaxo acquired Allen and Hanburys Ltd. in 1958. In 1981 the bacterial infection treatment Augmentin was launched by Beecham; the anti-ulcer treatment Zantac was launched by Glaxo; and the antiviral herpes treatment Zovirax was launched by Wellcome.

  • 1991 SmithKline Beecham launched Seroxat/Pa.
  • 1993 Imperial Chemical Industries demerged its pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals businesses, forming Zeneca Group plc.
  • I1995 Glaxo opened a major research and development facility in Stevenage, constructed at a cost of £700 million.
  • 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.
  • 1995 BASF completed the acquisition of the pharmaceutical division of The Boots Company.
  • 1997 SmithKline Beecham opened a major new research centre at New Frontiers Science Park in Essex.
  • 1999 Zeneca Group plc and Sweden-based Astra AB merged to form AstraZeneca plc.
  • 2000 Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham announced their intention to merge, with the merger completing in December of that year, forming GlaxoSmithKline plc.

21st century

  • 2001 the Novartis Respiratory Research Centre, the largest single-site respiratory research centre in the world, opened in Horsham.
  • 2006 AstraZeneca acquired Cambridge Antibody Technology, then the largest UK-based biotechnology company, for £702 million.
  • 2007 AstraZeneca acquired U.S.-based biotechnology company MedImmune for $15.6 billion.
  • 2009 GlaxoSmithKline acquired Stiefel Laboratories, then the world's largest independent dermatology company, for US$3.6 billion.
  • 2009 Eisai opened a major new research and development and manufacturing facility in Hatfield, constructed at a cost of over £100 million.
  • 2009 GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer combined their respective AIDS divisions into one London-based company, ViiV Healthcare.
  • 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.
  • 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.

About Pharmaceuticals/Biotechnology & Medical industries

The pharmaceutical industry researches and discovers, develops, produces, and markets drugs or pharmaceutical drugs for use as medications. Pharmaceutical companies may deal in generic or brand medications and medical devices. They are subject to a variety of rigorous laws and regulations governing the patenting, testing, safety, efficacy and marketing of drugs.

The pharmaceutical industry in the UK offers a wide variety of opportunities for experienced personnel, re-engineering candidates, graduates and postgraduates.There are opportunities in production, engineering, construction, maintenance, sales, administration and numerous other areas of the business.

A number of companies have their global headquarters in the UK, others have large R&D (research and development) sites as well as commercial and support functions. Some companies also manufacture medicines in the UK.  There are also opportunities with companies who carry out research and development under contract for pharmaceutical companies.

Many roles in the pharmaceutical industry require science or engineering qualifications, but companies also recruit people without a science background into roles in sales and marketing, IT, human resources, training, finance and many administrative and other areas..

What personnel are in demand who should contact us?

There are a wide variety of Pharmaceuticals, medical and biotech. Related jobs related jobs across a range of disciplines. Typically the following personnel can transfer with ease with a little assistance:

Project Managers, Project Engineers, Process engineers and designers, Chemical engineers, Validation engineers, Piping engineers and designers, Electrical engineers and designers, Mechanical engineers and designers, Structural engineers and designers, Instrumentation engineers and designers, Safety personnel, Technical Safety engineers, planning engineers, document controllers, maintenance peroneal, quality personnel,admin personnel.

There is also a demand for senior commercial and managerial roles (eg.. business development managers, country and sales managers, those with Quality control, Technical Safety experience, environmental impact assessment, government relations and  project management. 

In addition to this there is demand for HSE advisors, contract specialists and R&D personnel. In most instances no training will be required prior to placement, but we are able to assist where required. We will put you in touch with employers happy to engage you with your current skills and qualifications.

We will help you re-engineer yourself into this evolving high prospects industry.