Chemical and pharmaceutical industry

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry is Switzerland's leading exporter.

Laboratory techinician at work
Vifor Pharma in Fribourg © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry generated 4.8% of Switzerland’s gross domestic product in 2016. It is the export leader, annually selling products to other countries valued at around CHF 85 billion (42% of total Swiss exports). This sector directly employs around 70,000 people in Switzerland and over 338,000 internationally. 

The first chemical and pharmaceutical plants sprang up in the 19th century and were involved in manufacturing dyes for the textile industry. Later, they would concentrate their efforts on products with high-added value, such as serums, vaccines and medication. Following the financial crisis and major restructuring in the 1990s, the pharma sector has grown steadily since 2000. Exports alone rose from CHF 8 billion in 1990 to CHF 71 billion in 2015. 

Major players 

A handful of major chemical and pharmaceutical firms, such as Novartis, Roche, Merck Serono, Syngenta, Firmenich and Givaudan, dominate the industry. However, nearly half of all employees work in small- and medium-sized companies. In all, there are around 1,000 companies working in this sector. Most are based in Basel, Zurich, Zug and the Lake Geneva region.

Additional information