Areas of work, specialisms and alternatives

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology

22 Jun 2023, 13:22

Careers for science graduates in the pharmachemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry in Ireland.

Feature image Pharmaceutical and biotechnology

The pharmachemical industry in Ireland is dominated by multinational companies, many of them household names. Nine of the top ten global pharmaceutical companies are based in Ireland, with seven of the top ten blockbuster drugs produced here. Encouraged by investment from IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, many multinationals continue to invest in both research and development and manufacturing. The Irish pharmachemical industry directly employs almost 25,000 people, over half of whom hold a third-level qualification. The main areas of work in this sector are pharmaceutical and biotechnology.


Ireland is moving from a predominantly manufacturing dominance to a more integrated sector, which includes R&D, development and manufacturing, sales and marketing, clinical trials and regulatory affairs, all significant in the value chain.

Jobs for science graduates include:

  • Drug discovery and development
  • Clinical trials
  • Manufacture
  • Marketing
  • Regulation.

Jobs are also available in support areas such as IT and HR.

You can enter the industry from a wide range of degree subjects, including all the sciences as well as engineering and IT. Certain roles require specific scientific expertise and some need a postgraduate qualification.

Drug discovery

Drug discovery is the starting point for a new medicine. Because many diseases cannot yet be cured, or because existing treatment may cause unwanted side effects, new medicines that work in different ways are constantly being sought. Chemists, biologists, pharmacologists, IT specialists and colleagues from a variety of other science disciplines work in teams to try to identify chemical compounds that might eventually become a medicine.

Drug development

Drug development is the next phase. Once a chemical compound has been found that may work to treat the target disease, a variety of tests must be carried out to ensure that the compound can be made on a viable scale, formulated into a medicine and given to patients without causing them harm. Clinical trials are important to ensure the medicine works safely and effectively.


Manufacturing a medicine involves making the chemical compound and then mixing it with other substances to make a tablet, cream or aerosol that enables patients to take it.

Quality assurance

Safety and quality assurance is vital to the pharmaceutical industry. Ireland continues to have an excellent reputation for quality. Scientists, engineers, IT specialists and many others are involved at both stages. There will always be opportunities for professionals in the areas of health and safety, validation, regulatory affairs and compliance.


It is likely that much of the new investment in the pharmachemical sector will depend on biotechnology, with cutting-edge research in pharmaceuticals relying increasingly on the knowledge gained through the human genome project. It is predicted that, by 2015, 50 per cent of all drugs produced globally will be through biotechnology.

Disciplines such as molecular biology, bioinformatics and proteomics combine with chemistry to deliver novel therapeutics commonly referred to as biopharmaceuticals.
This sector has job opportunities for graduates with degrees in biotechnology, microbiology, chemistry and biochemistry. Job roles include:

  • Quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) technicians
  • Biochemists
  • Analytical chemists
  • Microbiologists
  • Process engineers.

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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