By: Claire Wilson and Donagh Fitzgerald. Last Updated: April 2022

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What Type of Careers are there in the Pharmaceutical Industry?

There are a huge variety of careers available in the pharmaceutical industry from laboratory-based research and development, clinical trials, regulatory affairs, manufacturing, engineering, quality assurance, quality control, validation all the way through to marketing, sales and distribution. Almost any skill set will find a career to match.

BTW,  if you are interested in a new career in pharma or want to upskill for a promotion, check out our pharmaceutical courses.

But before we begin…


What exactly is Pharmaceutical Manufacturing?

Pharmaceutical manufacturing is the making of medicines on an industrial scale.

For a medicine to get to the manufacturing stage, it has already gone through all research and discovery phases, and has been thoroughly tested. The manufacturing stage is about following the same “recipe” to create the same medicine again and again.

For this reason, manufacturing medicines isn’t really about science, it’s about systems. It’s about following processes and checking quality. This helps to make sure that the products are the same every time they’re made so that patients can rely on their medicines. For a tablet product, the manufacturing process can be broken down into a series of steps:

Chemical Synthesis:

Combining chemicals together to make the “raw medicine” (the part that has the medical effect on a patient). This is known as the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient or API.

Formulation or preparation:

The medicine is then mixed with other ingredients (known as pharmaceutical excipients) that are needed within the final the product. Different pharmaceutical excipients serve different purposes in the final medicine.

Examples include making sure it’s protected and stable enough to be packaged and get to the patient, making sure the API can be used by the patient’s body, or making sure the tablet is identifiable (which is important for patient safety). Processes like milling and granulation also happen here.

Tablet compression:

Shaping the final mix of ingredients into pills.

Tablet coating:

Often done to protect the pills and make them easier for a patient to swallow.

All stages of pharmaceutical industry operations are closely regulated and monitored by bodies such as the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

This level of regulation ensures that products are made safely and correctly, every single time. Which is important, there doesn’t get to be “good” batches and “not so good” batches of medicine… for obvious reasons! Because of this, pharmaceutical manufacturing is a unique and highly regulated environment.

Check out this video from AstraZeneca for an overview of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process…


Closely Related Industries  

If you’re considering this type of manufacturing career, there are some related industries that might also be of interest. These industries rely on the same strict regulations and specialist training…

Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

The traditional idea of medicines – made using chemical synthesis, as outlined above. Making small active molecules from scratch and ‘packaging’ them in a way the body can use (like in a tablet). The painkiller aspirin is a great example.

Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing

Biopharmaceutical products are made using a biological process (things we see happening naturally in biology, think alcohol fermentation which is used to make beer or wine). At its simplest, biopharmaceuticals are capturing things that are produced in biology and finding a way to make them into a usable medical treatment.

The processes here take larger, naturally occurring molecules such as proteins, genes, and cells and (again) ‘package’ them in a way that the body can make use of.

For a closer look at manufacturing biologics specifically, check out the video below. It’s a little science-heavy at the very start but gives a great overview of the manufacturing process as it progresses.

Nutritionals:

A segment of the pharmaceutical industry that involves the research, development, and manufacturing of nutritional products (such as milk powder for babies).

Medical Devices Manufacturing

Also referred to as Medical Technology (or MedTech). This is a wide encompassing term for any product, instrument, or item that is used to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure health conditions without any chemical or pharmacological action on or within the body. Examples include heart monitors, blood glucose meters, surgical equipment, artificial joints or even contact lenses.

Combination Products:

These are products that combine a medical device and a pharmaceutical/biopharmaceutical product. An example would be drug eluting stents, prefilled drug delivery systems (syringes, EpiPen, insulin injector pen, metered dose inhaler).


What Types of Jobs are There in the Pharmaceutical Industry?

There are a huge variety of job roles available within a pharmaceutical company, and almost any skillset will find a place in this industry.

The specific types of roles can generally be broken down by department. Let’s think of the departments we’d need to make a brand new drug, and the order we’d need them…

Research & Development:

Typically working in labs to identify new molecules that could be used in medications, how known molecules can be “packaged” into medicines, or on improving currently available medications.

Job roles include – Scientist, Senior Scientist, Principal Scientist, Research Scientist (it’s likely a specialism will be mentioned in the title — e.g pharmacology, neuroscience, oncology etc.) Biochemist, Microbiologist, Product Development Scientist, BioMedical Scientist

Clinical Trials:

Clinical trials are research studies performed on a drug to establish or check its safety and effectiveness.

Before a medical product can be prescribed by doctors or sold to patients, it needs to be approved by regulatory bodies (such as the FDA). These bodies give approval based on the outcomes of clinical trials – a company needs to show that their product is safe to be used, and has the desired effect.

Early clinical trials are done in labs, then with a small number of people (to test safety), then with a larger number of patients who have the condition the product aims to treat (to test effectiveness).

Job roles include – Clinical Scientist, Clinical Research Associate, Epidemiologist. People with a background in pharmacy, pharmacology, or healthcare (e.g. nurses) can also often find roles here.

Regulatory Affairs:

This department deals with the applications and ongoing paperwork surrounding regulations that have to be done before/when a medicine is sold to the public.

Job roles include – Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Regulatory Affairs Officer, Regulatory Affairs Associate, Qualified Person

Pharmacovigilance:

This area deals with monitoring and reporting the effectiveness and any side effects of pharmaceutical products after they have been released to the public.

Job roles include – Pharmacovigilance Officer, Drug Safety Officer

Production/Manufacturing:

The team of people who operate the machinery and systems that actually produce the pharmaceutical product. In a typical manufacturing plant, this is approximately 50% of total staff.

Job roles includeProcess Engineer, Production Supervisor, Manufacturing Engineers, Instrumentation Engineer, Process Technician, Chemical Process Technician, BioProcess Technician, Cleanroom Operator, Manufacturing Technician, Production Operator, Manufacturing Operator, Packaging Operator

Science Roles that Support Development and/or Manufacturing:

Development roles include the “D” part of “R&D”. Development is the phase after research where the creation of a proven drug is moved from the lab to the manufacturing plant.

Job roles include – Tech Transfer Scientist Jobs, Process Technology Transfer Scientist, Transfer Scientist, Product and Process development scientists

Other science roles support the manufacturing process and work within multidisciplinary teams to produce medicinal products.

Job roles include –  Microbiology/Particle Analyst, Process Sciences Manager-Upstream, Environmental Microbiologist, Bioprocessing Scientist, Production Scientist, Senior Scientist Technical Support, Process Scientist / Specialist – Purification

Validation:

The department that assesses and documents all equipment and processes to ensure that an action, process, or system leads to a consistent and reproducible result. (Check out this article for a much more detailed look at pharmaceutical validation).

Job roles includeValidation Engineer, Validation Technician, Validation Team Member, CQV Engineer, CQV Specialist, Validation Specialist, Senior Validation Specialist, C&Q Specialist, Cleaning Validation Engineer, Process Validation Engineer, Process Validation Specialist, CSV Engineer, CSV Specialist.

Quality Assurance:

QA is process-oriented and focuses on removing any variation from the processes of manufacturing. This is achieved by creating, revising, and strictly implementing a set of precisely defined procedures and quality standards that, when followed exactly, ensure the final quality of the product.

Quality Assurance is preventative by nature and makes sure things are done “Right first time”.

Job roles includeQuality Engineer, Quality Assurance Specialist, QA Technician, Documentation Specialist, Document Controller, Documentation Coordinator, Quality Assurance Associate, Quality Associate Manager, Plant Quality Assurance Senior Associate, QA Specialist – Raw Materials, QA Compliance Specialist, QMS/QA Specialist, QA Internal Auditor, QA Compliance Manager, Quality Systems Coordinator

Quality Control:

QC is product-oriented and focuses on testing samples from the manufacturing process to make sure they meet the required specifications and standards. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, the sample testing is done in a laboratory so people who work in QC usually have a science/laboratory background.

Job roles includeQuality Control Analyst, Quality Control Specialist, Senior Quality Control Analyst, QC Associate, QC Technician, Quality Control Microbiology Analyst, Quality Control Analyst FTC, QC Analyst, QC Scientist, QC Micro Technician, QC Microbiology Analyst, QC Drug Product Technologist, QC Specialist -LIMS