All Things Political

Pharmaceutical Industry Job Outlook

supplemental resource: Job Outlook by Profession

Employment is expected to increase as demand for drugs continues to grow. Prospects should be favorable, particularly for life scientists with a doctoral degree.

The number of wage and salary jobs in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is expected to increase by 6 percent over the 2008-18 period, compared with 11 percent projected for all industries combined. Even during fluctuating economic conditions, demand is expected to remain strong for this industry's products, including the diagnostics used in hospitals, laboratories, and homes, the vaccines used routinely on infants and children, analgesics and other symptom-easing drugs; antibiotics and other drugs for life-threatening diseases, and "lifestyle" drugs for the treatment of nonlife-threatening conditions.

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The use of drugs, particularly antibiotics and vaccines, has helped to eradicate or limit a number of deadly diseases, but many others, such as cancer, Alzheimer's, and heart disease, continue to elude cures. Ongoing research and the manufacture of new products to combat these and other diseases will continue to contribute to employment growth. Demand also is expected to increase as the population expands because many of the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry's products are related to preventive or routine healthcare, rather than just illness. The growing number of older people, who tend to consume more of all types of 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.

Another factor propelling demand is the increasing popularity of "lifestyle" drugs. These drugs treat symptoms of chronic nonlife-threatening conditions resulting from aging or genetic predisposition and can enhance one's self-confidence or physical appearance. Other factors expected to increase the demand for drugs include greater personal income and the rising health consciousness and expectations of the general public.

Despite the increasing demand for drugs, several factors will limit employment growth in the industry. Drug producers and buyers are placing more emphasis on cost effectiveness, due to the extremely high costs of developing new drugs. Competition from the producers of generic drugs also will put pressure on many firms in this industry as more brand-name drug patents expire. On the manufacturing side, continuing improvements in manufacturing processes will improve productivity in pharmaceutical plants, while many companies are also manufacturing more of their products overseas.

Strong demand is anticipated for professional occupations—especially for life and physical scientists engaged in R&D, the backbone of the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry. Much of the basic biological research done in recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the successful identification of genes. Life and physical scientists will be needed to take this knowledge to the next stage, which is to understand how certain genes function so that gene therapies can be developed to treat diseases. Computer specialists such as systems analysts, biostatisticians, and computer support specialists also will be in demand as disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and electronics continue to converge and become more interdisciplinary, creating demand in rapidly emerging fields such as bioinformatics and nanotechnology.

Steady demand also is projected for production occupations. Employment of office and administrative support workers is expected to grow more slowly than the industry as a whole, as companies streamline operations and increasingly rely on computers.

Job prospects should be favorable, particularly for life scientists with a doctoral degree. Unlike many other manufacturing industries, the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry is not highly sensitive to changes in economic conditions. Even during periods of high unemployment, work is likely to be relatively stable in this industry, because consumption of medicine does not vary greatly with economic conditions. Additional openings will arise from the need to replace workers who transfer to other industries, retire, or leave the workforce for other reasons.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition

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