How the Pharmaceutical Industry works – the product lifecycle part I

A guide for students and jobseekers

Are you a jobseeker or student who loves science and technology? Do you need to decide on a career path? Find out how industry and science connect in this series of articles. This first series looks at the pharmaceuticals industry (pharma).

The pharmaceutical industry (pharma) offers an incredible array of jobs. As well as pharmacists, research scientists and doctors it offers opportunities to people across the job spectrum. This includes economists, human resource specialists, finance experts, lawyers, statisticians, marketing and communications experts, Information Technologists, engineers (chemical, biological and mechanical) and technicians of many kinds.

The ‘Drug Lifecycle’

The first step in seeing how you could contribute to the pharma field is to understand the pharma product lifecycle. In the industry this is also referred to as the ‘Drug Lifecycle’.

It is the pharmaceutical version of ‘product lifecycles’ in other industries.

It looks at how a new medicine moves from being an idea in a scientists mind to being prescribed by doctors as a cure for patients. This also includes all the people along the way who work to make this happen.

A standard product lifecycle looks like this:



While a pharmaceutical product lifecycle looks like this:


The main differences between the two are the:

  • ‘development’ period is always divided into three phases in pharmaceutical development.
  • amount of time needed to bring a pharmaceutical product to the introductory phase. It tends to be much longer than in many other industries (the industry average is 5-10 years).
  • high numbers of ‘pilot’ products needed in the case of pharmaceuticals before having a registered product on the market.
  • highly regulated environment – to have a product launched it has to be officially approved by each individual country’s regulatory body for public health. The two main regulatory bodies for the Western pharmaceutical industry are the Federal Drug Administration (USA) and the European Medicines Agency.

This is because, unlike other consumer products like a phone, pharma is directly in the business of human health. In order to have your product launched there are many different factors at play.

The main complex factors are the human body, the sickness itself and how they both react to and interact with medicines. These all need to work together safely to make a patient better and in turn make the medicine available on the market.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short introduction to pharma and that it starts to whet your appetite for a possible career in this fast-evolving space. Our next instalment will start to break down the drug lifecycle and look at how drugs move from test tubes to viable medicines for patients and the specialists that make this happen.

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