Chemical engineers are perhaps the most closely associated group with drug development and manufacture. They work to transfer small scale research products to large scale manufacture.

Working in chemical engineering

There are various important aspects of the production of medicines where chemical engineers are required. They are responsible for developing large-scale production, packaging and delivery of all pharmaceutical products. This is achieved by:

  • Devising chemical routes that consistently give pure products
  • Scaling up production
  • Improving processes for existing products – using alternative routes and novel technology

Efficiency, consistency and safety must be considered at every stage to ensure successful chemical engineering. Producing active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) of consistent quality is crucial. Each dose must contain an exact amount of API, and chemical engineers work closely with quality teams to ensure this.  

There are some central objectives and constraints when designing a large-scale process for pharmaceutical production. The key objective is for chemical engineers to use their understanding of chemical kinetics and properties to design efficient processes. Maximum efficiency is the goal. The main constraints that they have to consider are cost, environmental impact and safety. As well as these, other factors such as available space and waste production influence their work.

Required Qualificati​​ons and Skills

To embark upon a career as a chemical engineer in pharmaceutical manufacture there are various specific skills and qualifications that are desirable, and often, required:

  • An accredited BEng or integrated MEng degree in chemical, process or biochemical engineering. (For information on entry requirements, see the UCAS website)
  • Maths and science skills (particularly chemistry)
  • Problem solving and analytical skills
  • Project, budget and people management skills

On top of this, it is important that you have strong transferable skills such as communication, IT and team work.

Career Prospects

The dynamic nature of the chemical engineering sector means that there are significant continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. The variety of skills gained will enable you to work in a range of different environments within pharmaceuticals and promotion to senior management will often come more quickly for you than in other areas of the industry.

If management is not something you are interested in, you could also develop expertise in a new technique that is in-demand and move into R&D. You could even move into specialist roles such as safety and risk management, or commercial areas such as sales, marketing and IT.

Salary

Graduate starting salaries are around £29,500, with median salaries for chartered chemical engineers reaching around £70,000.

For an insight into the role of a real chemical engineer in the pharmaceutical industry, take a look at this case study.

Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023