EU pharma in numbers: a portrait of an industry at a crossroads

As part of my role, I am lucky enough to get to meet industry researchers working at the very cutting edge of science.  I get to see manufacturing sites in action – turning the exciting science into millions of doses of innovative therapies and vaccines. And I get to work with CEOs investing in Europe's research, development and manufacturing that will deliver the next generation of vaccines and treatments and their amazing colleagues in the companies. However, it is when everything I get to see comes together in the form of the Pharmaceutical Industry in Figures (2022) that you get a sense of just how pivotal the research-based industry is to Europe’s economic and health future.

Nathalie Moll

Nathalie Moll joined the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) as Director...
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Take the number of people employed in our sector: among all the data packed in this report, this is one of the numbers that translates most readily to people. Of course, the 840,000 individuals directly employed in Europe’s pharmaceutical sector is not the whole picture. 

There is a significant multiplier effect which includes all those people, companies and partners providing services to the industry whose jobs we rely on; from plumbers to academics, CROs and SMEs, caterers to logisticians.

Towns, cities and regions that host pharmaceutical companies often become hubs attracting smaller life sciences companies and service providers, building a strong eco-system. For the industry as a whole, R&D spending in Europe has more than doubled from the year 2000, with R&D employment in our industry now estimated to be 125,000 people.

This fits an overall trend in which the industry’s contribution to the European economy has risen strongly by every measure.

In the 21 years from 2000 to 2021 – in which time we’ve come through the Global Financial Crisis and a pandemic – EFPIA companies have more than doubled production, increased exports by a factor of six, and recorded a trade balance that puts it far ahead of other high-tech sectors in Europe. 

Taken together, these numbers paint a picture of an industry vital to Europe’s economy. And that is, without considering the economic and health benefits delivered by the products themselves: lifesaving and life-improving therapies.

Looking to the future

However, the Pharmaceutical Industry in Figures report is a snapshot in time. It tells us where we are today but says nothing about the future. It reflects the standard disclaimer attached to investment products: ‘past performance is no guarantee of future results’. Indeed, looking at the trends since 2000, it may be that the pace of progress in employment, production and exports is beginning to slow in Europe compared to other regions of the world.

The information contained in the 2022 report, together with trend data over recent years and international comparison data can be used to inform the urgent discussions we need to have about Europe’s place in a competitive world and how pharma can contribute both to health and wealth in a key moment for policy development on the continent.

We must take a long-term strategic view of where we are as a region and where we are going.  Company leaders and life-science investors, who can invest in any industry in any country or region, need to have confidence in the long-term outlook: in the innovation ecosystem, in access to talent, in the market.

Time to think strategically, together

Despite the clear and positive contribution of the pharmaceutical industry to Europe’s economy, we are facing a number of challenges. Escalating costs and regulatory hurdles are making R&D more difficult, while the impact of fiscal austerity measures introduced across Europe since 2010 continue to affect today’s revenues and influence key decisions on bringing innovation to market. At the same time, we have seen the growth of Brazilian, Chinese and Indian markets outstrip growth in the top 5 European markets. Our global competitors have prioritised life sciences and we must respond with similar ambition.

That’s where Europe’s pharmaceutical and industrial strategies come in. It is vital that Europe rises to the challenge and develops the policies needed to ensure the European pharmaceutical sector is an innovator and world leader. 

For our part, EFPIA has put forward concrete commitments and proposals to enhance access to medicines while putting Europe at the forefront of the development and delivery of the diagnostics, treatments and vaccines of the future.
We want Europe to be the place where medical innovation happens. The place where pharmaceutical production happens. And the place where new products are launched first, so that the unmet needs of European patients are addressed as quickly as possible. In the process, we can work to ensure our sector remains a major source of jobs, investment and trade.

The latest Pharmaceutical Industry in Figures report is a reminder of the strengths and potential our industry offers – and a timely reminder of why we must work together to protect and grow one of European industry’s best assets.