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How much influence does the pharmaceutical industry have on the British economy?

It is no exaggeration to say that the UK economy has been in the doldrums over the last few years, with companies in many industries struggling to get by. But a recessionary environment can often lead to the biggest contributors to the economy really showing their worth – and this is certainly true of the pharmaceutical sector.

According to figures from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (APBI), the sector employs approximately 67,000 people in the UK, with highly skilled research and development (R&D) specialists accounting for about one-third of them.

Statistics also show that the UK’s pharmaceutical industry invests around £4.5 million in R&D every year, which works out to more than £12 million a day. This is well ahead of the amount any other industrial sector spends on R&D – so the industry definitely seems to be well-placed to lead from the front in driving the UK’s economic recovery.

A look at the pharmaceutical sector’s trade surplus – £5 billion a year at the last count – certainly reinforces this view. In fact, the ABPI has noted that the industry creates a “substantial positive trade balance and is placed at the top of the list among trading businesses in the UK”. And last year, the sector’s contribution to the balance of trade was bigger than in any other major industrial sector, including machinery manufacturing, beverages, petroleum and telecommunications.

But the success of pharmaceutical firms in the UK is not solely down to the fact that people will always get ill and need treatment and medication. After all, many other countries also invest heavily in pharmaceutical R&D and manufacture pills and tablets that get shipped worldwide.

So what is Britain doing that is enabling it to attract investment, expand its operations and thrive in what has become a highly competitive international market?

UK products are safe
The UK’s pharmaceutical industry is doing so well partly because the products it designs and produces are perceived to be safe and reliable. Pharma companies in the UK are regarded as approachable, informative and committed to ensuring accidents don’t happen.

A key part of this is protecting children from pharmaceutical products. A curious child can easily find a jar of tablets in a cupboard and be tempted to open it and sample the contents. British manufacturers have worked to address this problem by investing in capping machines, such as those provided by KBW Packaging.

The devices have made adding options such as screw caps and press-on caps extremely quick and straightforward, so pharma firms of all sizes can offer packaging that is effectively child-proof.

Of course, a company’s capping needs will vary depending on the nature of the product, in which case different types of machines can be used. But the fact UK pharmaceutical firms are willing and able to go to the effort and expense of packaging their wares in a safe and appropriate way has likely helped to position them as leaders in the market.

The ABPI believes Britain’s pharma sector is at the “leading end of this country’s efforts to pull the country out of recession”, as it boasts a “vibrant and innovative research community and advanced manufacturing expertise”. Both of these are equally essential, as medicines companies must command public confidence – and the best way to do this is by delivering high-quality goods that can be used safely.


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