Life Sciences 2021 Review: Jobs at record levels with AstraZeneca publishing most UK vacancies

Jan 31, 2022 | Life Sciences, News

  • Scientific vacancies in the UK are up 58% in 2021 compared to 2020
  • AstraZeneca dominant recruiter; PPD with biggest surge 
  • R&D specialists most sought-after; drug safety function fastest growth
  • New jobs at CROs and pharma level for first time; biotech soaring

New jobs in the UK life sciences sector hit all-time highs in 2021 amid a record injection of government healthcare funding to position Britain as a global life sciences superpower post-Brexit, according to new research.

A new labour market report by recruiters Cpl Life Sciences and data analytics firm Vacancysoft found that scientific vacancies in UK pharmaceuticals, biotech, contract research organisations and medical devices were up 58% in 2021 compared to 2020. 

The most active recruiter in UK life sciences was AstraZeneca, which published over 1,000 new professional scientific vacancies last year, representing a rise of 49% year-on-year. PPD experienced the fastest growth, with a rise of 186.4% in new jobs compared to 2020.

James Chaplin, CEO of Vacancysoft, said: “UK life sciences had little respite over the last two years, playing a pivotal role in producing the vaccines and therapies to battle covid-19 while expanding facilities and developing other new medicines and technologies. This despite supply chain problems and other challenges arising from, among others, Britain’s exit from the EU.

“As a result, the UK had a red hot life sciences labour market in 2021, following a 2020 where vacancies more or less maintained the same levels compared to 2019. The government’s favourable conditions and incentives for the growth of the industry might see these new higher levels of new jobs maintained. No longer able to have frictionless trade with the EU, pharmaceuticals may opt to scale up in the UK instead.”

Top firms, professional life science vacancies, 2020-2021 [see report for Top 20]

# Company 2020 2021 YOY
1 AstraZeneca 728 1084 48.9%
2 Labcorp Drug Development 393 884 124.9%
3 IQVIA 405 823 103.2%
4 Eurofins 302 695 130.1%
5 GSK 389 678 74.3%
10 PPD 116 345 186.4%

R&D specialists most sought-after; drug safety function fastest growth

In October 2021 the Treasury announced it would invest £5 billion in R&D to spur innovation in healthcare — part of the government’s plans to pump £22 billion in the sector by 2026/27 and cement the UK’s position as a science superpower

The data shows that R&D specialists are the most sought after experts, with vacancies for this function dominating the labour market, and rising by 71% year-on-year. Professional clinical vacancies, second by volume in the UK, experienced a 102% rise in relation to 2020. Hiring for PCV/drug safety experts saw the largest growth (107% year-on-year), while medical affairs vacancies were the most muted (30.7% year-on-year).

New jobs at CROs and pharma level for first time; biotech soaring

A record £3 billion was raised in biotechs in the first three quarters of 2021 — surpassing the previous all-time annual high of £2.8 billion, and mirrored by a surge in hiring. In July 2021 biotechs published a record of 290 new jobs — 111.8% more than the same month a year earlier. Annual totals finished 72.4% year-on-year, and 136% in relation to 2019.

There’s also been a significant hike in recruitment in CROs, as pharma and biotech companies outsource drug development and discovery.  Scientific vacancies in CROs are now broadly identical to those recorded in pharma firms, with hiring levels up 99% year-on-year. In contrast, pharma recruitment is up by only 46% compared to 2020. 

  • The data for this article is taken from a 2021 labour market review of the UK life sciences sector produced by Vacancysoft and Cpl Life Sciences. Read it here.

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