Chemical and pharmaceutical industry

The chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry is Switzerland's leading exporter, generating roughly 50% of total annual exports and 7% of GDP. There are over 1,000 industry operators, including two major multinationals.

 Young people working in the research lab
Chemicals and pharmaceuticals account for roughly half of Switzerland's total exports. © Hoffmann-La Roche

The chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry generates approximately 7% of Switzerland's GDP, making it a key sector of the economy and a top performer in terms of exports. Over CHF 100 billion in chemical and pharmaceutical products are sold abroad every year, accounting for around 50 % of total exports. The vast majority of chemical and pharmaceutical products are exported to the EU. The industry employs over 75,000 people in Switzerland and invests more in research and development (R&D) than any other industry. In 2021, pharmaceutical companies alone invested over CHF 6 billion in R&D.

The first chemicals and pharmaceuticals plants emerged in the 19th century and were involved in manufacturing dyes for the textile industry. Later, the industry concentrated its efforts on high-value-added products, such as serums, vaccines and drugs. Following the financial crisis and major restructuring in the 1990s, the pharmaceuticals sector has seen strong growth since 2000, significantly outperforming the chemicals industry. 

Major players

The industry is dominated by a handful of major players: Roche, Novartis, Debiopharm and Lonza in the pharmaceuticals sector and Syngenta, Ineos, Eurochem, Givaudan and Clariant in chemicals. Roche and Novartis are among the world's largest multinationals in terms of sales. However, nearly half of all staff working in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises. There are roughly 1,000 industry operators, mainly based in the Basel, Zurich, Zug and Lake Geneva areas. Switzerland is also home to 20% of Europe's life science companies and helps ensure the success of biotech companies worldwide.