The pharmaceutical industry researches, discovers, develops, manufactures and markets pharmaceutical products. These are the drugs and other products prescribed by doctors or sold over the counter to be used as medicines by patients.

The bonus is, if you have a technical background, you may be much closer than you think to being an ideal candidate. But first…

What is Pharmaceutical Manufacturing?

Traditional pharmaceutical manufacturing is the synthesis and manufacture of medicines on an industrial scale. The process can be broken down into a series of steps such as:

  • Chemical synthesis of the medicine that helps the patient – the raw medicine is known as the API or Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient.
  • Formulation or preparation – the medicine is mixed with solvents, binding agents, and pharmaceutical excipients along with milling and granulation.
  • Tablet compression – shaping the medicine into pills.
  • Tablet coating – to protect the pills and make them easier to swallow.

All stages of pharmaceutical industry operations are closely regulated and monitored by bodies such as the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). This level of regulation ensures that products are made safely and correctly, every single time.

Because of this, pharmaceutical manufacturing is a unique and highly regulated environment.

Check out this video from AstraZeneca for an overview of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process…

If you’re considering a career in pharmaceutical manufacturing, there are also some related industries that might also be of interest (these industries rely on the same strict regulations and specialist training):


Medicines made using chemical synthesis. Making small active molecules and ‘packaging’ them in a way the body can use (like in a tablet).The painkiller “aspirin” is a great example.


Where as pharmaceutical products are made using a chemical synthesis, biopharmaceutical products are made using a biological process or biotechnology. For example, think of how beer is made. The brewer mixes hops, barley, yeast and sugar and the yeast does all the hard work making the beer. So at its simplest, this means capturing things that are produced in biology and finding a way to make them into a usable treatment. The processes here are producing larger naturally occurring molecules such as proteins, genes and cells, and (again) ‘packaging’ them in a way that the body can make use of. For a closer look at manufacturing biologics specifically, check out the video below, from Amgen. It’s a little science-heavy at the very start but gives a great overview of the manufacturing process as it progresses.


 Utilizes biological systems, living organisms or parts of this to develop or create different products. Biotech generally refers to products that result from biology, where as biopharma refers to drugs manufactured from biological processes.


A segment of the pharmaceutical industry that involves the research, development, and manufacturing of nutritional products (such as milk powder for babies).

Medical Devices 

A wide encompassing term for any product, instrument or item which is used to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure health conditions without any chemical or pharmacological action on or within the body. Examples include machines to monitor blood glucose, surgical equipment or even contact lenses.

Departments and types of pharmaceutical careers

There are a huge variety of job roles available with the pharmaceutical company. The types of roles are determined by the departments and include:

Research & Development

Typically working in labs to identify new drugs or molecules that could be used in medications, or on current medications to improve them.  

Typical Job Roles 

  • Scientists
  • Senior Scientists
  • Principal Scientist
  • Research Scientist (it’s likely a specialism will be mentioned in the title — e.g pharmacology, neuroscience, oncology etc.)
  • Biochemist
  • Microbiologist
  • Product Development Scientist
  • BioMedical Scientist.

Clinical Trials

Research studies performed in people that are aimed at evaluating a medical, surgical, or behavioural intervention. They are the main way that researchers figure out if a new treatment, like a new medicine or medical device is safe and effective in people and to get regulatory approval (from the FDA or other regulatory bodies).

Typical Job Roles 

  • Clinical Scientists
  • Clinical Research Associate
  • Epidemiologist
  • In addition, people with a background in pharmacy, pharmacology or healthcare (nurses) find roles here.

Production/Manufacturing (Process)

The machinery and systems that actually produce the pharmaceutical product. (Approx 50% of total staff in a manufacturing plant)

Typical Job Roles 

  • Process/Chemical Process Technician
  • BioProcess Technician
  • Cleanroom Operator
  • Manufacturing Technicians
  • Production/Manufacturing Operator
  • Process Engineers
  • Production Manager
  • Manufacturing Engineers
  • Instrumentation Engineer


Assess and document all equipment and processes to ensure that an action, process or system leads to a consistent and reproducible result. 

Typical Job Roles 

  • Validation Engineer
  • Validation Technician
  • Validation Team Member
  • CSV Engineer

Quality Assurance

Process oriented and focuses on eliminating process variation by creating, revising and strictly implementing a set of tightly and precisely defined process/procedures/quality standards that when exactly followed, ensure the final quality of the product. Quality Assurance is preventative by nature and makes sure you are doing it “Right First Time”.

Typical Job Roles 

  • Quality Engineer
  • Quality Assurance Specialist
  • Quality Assurance (QA) Technician
  • QA Specialist Documentation Specialist
  • Document Controller
  • Documentation Coordinator

Quality Control 

Product oriented and focuses on testing a sample of a manufacturing process to make sure that meets the required design specifications or quality standards. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, the sample testing is done in a laboratory so people who work in QC usually have a science/laboratory background.

Typical Job Roles 

  • Quality Control Analyst
  • QC Associate
  • Quality Control (QC) Technician
  • QC Specialist

Regulatory Affairs

Deal with the applications and paperwork surrounding regulations that have to be done before a medicine can be sold to the public. 

Typical Job Roles 

  • Regulatory Affairs Specialist
  • Regulatory Affairs Officer
  • Regulatory Affairs Associate
  • Qualified Person (typically a licensed pharmacist, biologist or chemist)


Ensures the continuous functioning of the manufacturing plant and its equipment. 

Typical Job Roles 

  • Maintenance Technician
  • Calibration Technician
  • Electrical and Instrumentation Technician
  • Facilities Engineer
  • Automation Engineer
  • Project Engineer
  • Maintenance Engineer

Sales and Marketing

Pharmaceutical sales and marketing is the business of advertising and promoting the sale of pharmaceutical drugs.


Includes areas such as Supply Chain, Logistics, HR, Warehouse, Finance, etc

The size of these departments depend upon the size of the pharmaceutical company (smaller companies may outsource some of these roles altogether) but they are all ultimately critical parts of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process.

How much can I earn in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Singapore?

Check out our Pharmaceutical Job Description and Salary Section to get an idea of the typical salaries for pharmaceutical manufacturing related roles.

What is the typical pharmaceutical industry career path?

In Manufacturing/Production:
Operator > Senior Operator > Shift supervisor > Production Manager > Production Director

In Engineering:
Engineer > Senior Engineer > Engineering Manager > Engineering Director

In Maintenance:
Maintenance Technician > Maintenance Engineer > Maintenance Supervisor

In Quality:
Quality Technician > Quality Engineer > Quality Supervisor > Quality Manager > Quality Director

In Science/Laboratory:
Senior Laboratory Technician > Team Leader Technician > Laboratory Manager

In Validation:
Validation Technician > Senior Validation Technician > Validation Engineer > Validation Team Leader > Validation Manager

Interested in a career in pharmaceutical manufacturing?

There are a few simple steps to follow…

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