The pharmaceutical industry in the United Kingdom directly employs around 73,000 people and in 2007 contributed £8.4 billion to the UK's GDP and invested a total of £3.9 billion in research and development. In 2007 exports of pharmaceutical products from the UK totalled £14.6 billion, creating a trade surplus in pharmaceutical products of £4.3 billion.
UK Pharmaceutical employment of 73,000 in 2017  compares to 114,000 as of 2015 in Germany,  92,000 as of 2014 in France  and 723,000 in the European Union as a whole.  In the United States 281,440 people work in pharmaceutical industry as of 2016. 
The UK is home to GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively the world's fifth- and sixth-largest pharmaceutical companies measured by 2009 market share. Foreign companies with a major presence in the UK pharmaceutical industry include Pfizer, Novartis, Hoffmann–La Roche and Eisai. One in five of the world's biggest-selling prescription drugs were developed in the UK.
In 1842 Thomas Beecham established the Beecham's Pills laxative business, which would later become the Beecham Group. By 1851 UK-based patent medicine companies had combined domestic revenues of around £250,000. Beecham opened Britain's first modern drugs factory in St Helens in 1859. Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs formed a partnership in September 1880, and established an office in Snow Hill in Central London. The London Wholesale Drug and Chemical Protection Society was formed in 1867, which became the Drug Club in 1891, the forerunner of the present-day Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. In 1883 Burroughs Wellcome & Co. opened their first factory, at Bell Lane Wharf in Wandsworth, utilising compressed medicine tablet-making machinery acquired from Wyeth of the United States. Burroughs Wellcome & Co. established its first overseas branch in Sydney in 1898.
The Glaxo department of Joseph Nathan and Co was established in London in 1908. Glaxo Laboratories Ltd absorbed Joseph Nathan and Co in 1947 and was listed on the London Stock Exchange in the same year. In order to satisfy regulations then in place in the UK on the importation of medicines, Pfizer established a compounding operation in Folkestone, Kent in Autumn 1952. Pfizer acquired an 80-acre site on the outskirts of Sandwich in 1954 to enable the expansion of its Kent-based activities. Glaxo acquired Allen and Hanburys Ltd. in 1958. In 1981 the bacterial infection treatment Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanate potassium) was launched by Beecham; the anti-ulcer treatment Zantac (ranitidine) was launched by Glaxo; and the antiviral herpes treatment Zovirax (aciclovir) was launched by Wellcome.
In 1991 SmithKline Beecham launched Seroxat/Paxil (paroxetine hydrochloride). In June 1993 Imperial Chemical Industries demerged its pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals businesses, forming Zeneca Group plc. In 1995 Glaxo opened a major research and development facility in Stevenage, constructed at a cost of £700 million. In March 1995 the £9 billion acquisition of Wellcome by Glaxo was completed, forming Glaxo Wellcome, in what was the largest merger in UK corporate history to date. BASF completed the acquisition of the pharmaceutical division of The Boots Company in April 1995. In 1997 SmithKline Beecham opened a major new research centre at New Frontiers Science Park in Harlow, Essex. In 1999 Zeneca Group plc and Sweden-based Astra AB merged to form AstraZeneca plc. Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham announced their intention to merge in January 2000, with the merger completing in December of that year, forming GlaxoSmithKline plc.
In February 2001 the Novartis Respiratory Research Centre, the largest single-site respiratory research centre in the world, opened in Horsham. In May 2006 AstraZeneca agreed to buy Cambridge Antibody Technology, then the largest UK-based biotechnology company, for £702 million. In April 2007 AstraZeneca agreed to acquire the U.S.-based biotechnology company MedImmune for $15.6 billion. In April 2009 GlaxoSmithKline agreed to acquire Stiefel Laboratories, then the world's largest independent dermatology company, for US$3.6 billion. In June 2009 Eisai opened a major new research and development and manufacturing facility in Hatfield, constructed at a cost of over £100 million. In November 2009 GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer combined their respective AIDS divisions into one London-based company, ViiV Healthcare. On 1 February 2011 Pfizer announced that it would be closing its entire research and development facility at Sandwich, Kent within 18–24 months with the loss of 2,400 jobs, as part of a company-wide plan to reduce its spending on research and development.
In March 2013 AstraZeneca announced plans for a major corporate restructuring, including the closure of its research and development activities at Alderley Park, investment of $500 million in the construction of a new research and development facility in Cambridge, and the move of its corporate headquarters from London to Cambridge in 2016.
In 2007 the UK had the third-highest share of global pharmaceutical Research and development (R&D) expenditure of any nation, with 9% of the total, behind the United States (49%) and Japan (15%). The UK has the largest pharmaceutical R&D expenditure of any European nation, accounting for 23% of the total; followed by France (20%), Germany (19%), and Switzerland (11%).
|Companya||R&D spendingb (£m)|
|7||Brinton Healthcare UK Ltd||140.13|
|8||Eli Lilly and Company||130.21|
|12||John Wyeth & Brother||60.33|
a Italicised company name: ultimate parent is not UK-based
b Where parent company is UK-based: worldwide R&D spending; other companies: R&D spending in UK only
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the UK government agency which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work and are acceptably safe.
Global Justice Now and Stop AIDS Campaign published a report claiming patients could not always afford drugs where the public sector had partly funded research to develop those drugs. The report claims, "In many cases, the UK taxpayer effectively pays twice for medicines: first through investing in R&D, and then by paying high prices for the resulting medicine once ownership has been transferred to a private company." Richard Sullivan of Kings College, London, said some drug companies price their drugs correctly but others "vastly overprice" their drugs. There are calls for government action to discourage overpricing.
Big push for London