APM study reveals the contribution of project management in pharma and life science

Image of a head with icons coming out of the brain with a light bulb, globe, cog, clock, microscope and more to show APM study reveals the contribution of project management in pharma and life science

A study by the Association for Project Management has revealed the contribution of projects and project management in pharma and life sciences.

Rebecca Fox, Head of Membership at Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered body for the project profession, provides an insight into APM’s latest report The Golden Thread, which explores the contribution of project management in the health, pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors, as well as challenges and future expectations for the profession.

Projects in the UK’s healthcare, pharmaceutical and life science sectors are critical to the country, both due to the essential public function they provide and their contribution to the economy. Advancing the art, science, theory and practice of project management within this diverse and dynamic field will help unlock further potential, according to research in APM’s The Golden Thread, undertaken by PwC.

This report identifies healthcare as an area of growth and professionalisation of project management, but reveals there is still work to be done to increase awareness and the benefits that project management skills can provide, such as:

  • stronger execution of projects
  • saving time
  • saving money.

APM, through its chartered status and membership services, is working with the sector to help support those working in project-related roles in healthcare, pharma and life sciences. Projects in the healthcare, pharma and life science sectors make a significant contribution to the UK’s economy, generating £17.5bn of annual Gross Value Added (GVA) and employing 223,800 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers in project-related roles.

The Golden Thread study, undertaken before the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, emphasises the importance of project management skills in healthcare, a sector which has had to adapt and pivot to deal with immediate challenges, such as the rapid establishment of the Nightingale hospitals, and innovative collaboration in the search for a vaccine.

In the pharma sector, strong project management is recognised as a valuable asset in the process of developing new pharmaceuticals, testing them and bringing them to market efficiently and effectively. Project management is also well-established in private sector life science projects, and there is evidence that it is moving into the research sector as project professionals are increasingly specified and sought after by management skills funders, especially on larger projects.

However, while there is much to recommend the further professionalisation of project management skills, there are challenges associated with doing so.


  • Skills gaps – competition for skilled staff is strong in the private health sector, particularly in pharmaceuticals, as many project management roles demand staff with knowledge of process or medicinal chemistry as well as project skills. The Golden Thread highlights flexibility and communication skills as essential in life sciences, due to the need to collaborate with researchers.
  • Uncertainty and disruption – the report highlights that project professionals in the UK’s pharma and life sciences sectors feel that uncertainty around the UK’s exit from the EU is a key challenge, as it remains to be seen whether they will face disruptions to international market entry, or a loss of access to participants for clinical trials. Weakening of international ties could also diminish the UK’s appeal to international researchers and skilled professionals from abroad.
  • Misconceptions of project management – there are common misperceptions of project management across the health sectors, demonstrating the need for greater awareness of the benefits of project management skills and the need for increased professionalisation across the sectors.

A strong starting point for addressing these challenges is raising awareness of project management in the health, pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors. Professionalisation and chartership through APM has had a positive impact in this regard, helping to shape a more positive future for projects and project practitioners.

Future expectations

Project management approaches will continue to be crucial to improve processes through product development phases to managing complex supply chains. Experts interviewed as part of The Golden Thread predict that bottom up approaches will become more popular in the pharma industry, especially when staff develop further in project management and can have greater input. A collaborative approach will see the benefits of project management recognised across an organisation.

Karen Vincent, Head of Governance & Projects at the Babraham Institute who was interviewed as part of The Golden Thread, is optimistic about the opportunity for project management approaches to have greater uptake on research projects moving forwards. She believes that this uptake of project management methodologies in research is being driven by specification from funders, some who have observed the benefit of project management on corporate projects.

Karen says: “I think the funders, because they’re using project management themselves, are starting to see the benefits of passing it down to the science, and gradually researchers on big collaborative, cross-organisational projects are thinking more about how they would manage the project and want someone dedicated to doing that.”

How APM is supporting project professionals working in healthcare, pharma and life sciences

APM is committed to developing and promoting the value of project management in order to deliver improved project outcomes for the benefit of society and has a pharmaceutical and life sciences sector group that holds regular meetings, webinars and networking events. Visit https://www.apm.org.uk/event/ for further information.

APM’s online community, APM Hub, is designed exclusively for individual members of APM. The platform provides the opportunity for an online group to be set up to connect project professionals working in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and life science sectors.

A full copy of The Golden Thread report is available at www.apm.org.uk/goldenthread/sector/

For further information about APM and how you can benefit through membership and chartered status visit www.apm.org.uk