With a population of approximately 38 million, Canada has the eighth-biggest pharmaceutical market in the world. It also has a pharmaceutical sector that is among the most innovative industries in the country. The industry is composed of organisations developing and manufacturing generic pharmaceuticals, innovative medicines, and over-the-counter drugs.

In this article, we explore what the pharmaceutical industry looks like in Canada through key statistics including market size, leading companies, and what you could expect to earn working in the industry.

Pharmaceutical Industry Statistics for Canadians

  • Canada’s pharmaceutical sales represent just over 2% of the global market.
  • Expenditure on drugs is expected to total $47.9 billion in 2024.
  • Generic drugs take on average 2-3 years and $3-$10 million to develop and prove.
  • The United States is Canada’s main trading partner for pharmaceuticals.
  • In 2022, the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Canada employed over 33,000 people.
  • Johnson & Johnson had an over 12% share of Canada’s pharmaceutical market in 2022.
  • The top ten of pharmaceutical products accounted for 65% of pharmaceutical sales in 2022.
  • Around 37% of Canada’s elderly population have at least two common chronic diseases.
  • Canada has over 50,000 licenced or registered pharmacists working in over 12,000 pharmacies.

Pharmaceutical Industry in Canada

The Canadian pharmaceutical industry is made up of several sub-sectors that service different segments of the market. These include generic pharmaceuticals, brand-name pharmaceuticals, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs), and contract research organisations (CROs).

Pharmaceutical companies carry out research and development to develop new or improve existing patented therapies. Other companies work to develop bio-equivalent copies of drugs once the patents have expired. Emerging fields in the industry include gene and cell therapies as well as nanomedicines.

Size of the Pharmaceutical Industry in Canada

Canada’s pharmaceutical sales represent a 2.2% share of the worldwide pharmaceutical market, which makes Canada the eighth-largest market in the world. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) has remained at 6.4% since 2017.

The Canadian pharmaceutical market size in 2023 was estimated at $65.9 billion. The market size is expected to grow at a slightly faster rate of 6.88% CAGR. The faster growth is driven by a range of factors which include Canada’s aging population, growing demand for innovative drugs, increasing healthcare expenditures, and strong focus on research and development.

In Canada, brand-name products represent 80.5% of the sales value. They also represent 25.7% of all the prescriptions by quantity. 19.5% of the market sales value is generics, which represent 74.3% of the prescriptions.

Drug Sales in Canada

The total value of pharmaceutical sales in Canada, including over-the-counter and non-patented medicines, increased by 56.4% to $34.1 billion between 2012 and 2021. In 2021, patented medicine sales totaled $17.4 billion, and non-patented medicine sales $16.7. According to Statista, the total expenditure on drugs in Canada is expected to reach $47.9 billion in 2024.

In Canada, various channels handle the sales of medicine. 56.8% of drugs in Canada are sold via consolidated distributors, 35.5% through self-distributing chains of pharmacies, and 7.7% are sold directly to pharmacies.

Research and Development Activities

The expenditures on research and development by pharmaceutical companies in Canada decreased by 1% between 2012 and 2021 and were $922.9 million in 2021. New medicines are increasingly developed externally through partnerships with SMEs, academia, government research centres, and CROs. 

Over the last ten years, 82% of innovator biologics and 60% of innovator small molecules have had their roots outside the large pharmaceutical companies. As a result, Canadian CROs perform an increased amount of research and development.

The average research and development cost per drug over the last 12-13 years was $1.8 billion. On average, generic drugs take two to three years to develop and require funds between $3 and $10 million to develop and prove it is equivalent to the original drug.

Based on expenditures by region, over half of the research and development activity in Canada is carried out in Ontario. In 2021, 52.3% of the expenditures occurred in Ontario. 26.3% occurred in Quebec, 19.9% in Western Canada, and 21.5% in Atlantic Canada. The territories had no pharmaceutical research and development expenditures in 2021.

International Trade of Pharmaceuticals

Between 2018 and 2022, pharmaceutical exports increased by 38% and imports by 55%. The main trading partner for pharmaceutics is the United States, which accounted for 29% of imports and 64% of exports in 2020. 48% of imports originated from the European Union.

Employment in the Pharmaceutical Industry

According to the Government of Canada, the manufacturing sector of the industry employed 33,128 people in 2022, up from 32,518 in 2021. The number of jobs in this sector has grown by about 11% over the last five years. While many Canadian industries saw job losses during the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry continued the same steady growth throughout and after.

In Canada, approximately 40% of hiring activity in the pharmaceutical industry came from five companies in 2023. These companies were Charles River Laboratories International, Pharmascience, AstraZeneca, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, and ICON. AstraZeneca had the highest increase in hiring at 37%.

Leading Pharmaceutical Companies in Canada

The top ten pharmaceutical organisations accounted for over 50% of the total pharmaceutical sales (including both non-prescription and prescription medicines) in Canada in 2022.

The largest market share was held by Johnson & Johnson. The company had 12.2% of the market and $4.73 billion in sales. Next, with a 4.6% market share was Merck which has sales totalling $1.77 billion. The third, fourth, and fifth spots were taken by Novartis, AbbVie, and Novo Nordisk with market shares of 4.5%, 4.4%, and 4.2%, respectively. Novartis had sales of $1.75 billion, AbbVie $1.71 billion, and Novo Nordisk $1.62 billion.

Leading Pharmaceutical Products in Canada

In 2022, 65% of industry sales in Canada came from the top ten pharmaceutical products. Leading categories include medicines for arthritis, glycemic control, ophthalmology, and autoimmune diseases. The most sold product in 2022 was Ozempic, a glycemic control medicine produced by Novo Nordisk. It experienced 84% growth and sales totalled $1,044 million.

The next most-sold pharmaceutical product was Remicade despite a 17.9% decrease in sales. The anti-arthritic medicine from Janssen had total sales of $920 million. Third was the autoimmune medicine Stelara by Jansen with 19.5% growth and $821 million in sales.

Aging Population will Increase the Demand for Medication

As Canada’s population becomes older, it will lead to an increased demand for several medications since the elderly are more vulnerable to lifestyle and metabolic disorders, diminished bodily functions, reduced mobility, and cognitive impairment. It is estimated that around 37% of Canada’s seniors have at least two of the ten most common chronic diseases which include asthma, osteoporosis, hypertension, and osteoarthritis.

Another factor that will increase the market size is the number of people with conditions such as diabetes across all age groups. According to Statistics Canada, over 2.2 million Canadians aged 12 or older have diabetes, over 2.8 million have asthma, and over 5.9 million have arthritis.

Pharmacists and Pharmacies in Canada

According to the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA), there were 50,069 registered or licensed pharmacists in Canada at the start of 2024. Approximately 70% of the pharmacists work in community pharmacies, while the remaining 30% of the workforce is equally split between hospitals and other settings. The other settings include the pharmaceutical industry, associations, governments, colleges, and universities.

With over 18,000 pharmacists, Ontario has by far the greatest number of registered or licensed pharmacists. Below are the numbers of pharmacists in each Canadian province and territory at the beginning of 2024. The list also includes the number of pharmacists serving in Canada’s armed forces.

  • Ontario 18,313
  • Quebec 11,217
  • British Columbia 6,981
  • Alberta 6,281
  • Saskatchewan 1,945
  • Manitoba 1,637
  • Nova Scotia 1,488
  • New Brunswick 1,040
  • Newfoundland and Labrador 743
  • Prince Edward Island 243
  • Armed Forces 128
  • Nortwest Territories 77
  • Yukon 58
  • Nunavut 46

Similarly to the pharmacists, the most populated provinces have the greatest numbers of licensed or accredited pharmacies. In total, there are 12,162 in Canada.

  • Ontario 5,193
  • Quebec 1,906
  • Alberta 1,701
  • British Columbia 1,593
  • Manitoba 505
  • Saskatchewan 426
  • Nova Scotia 314
  • New Brunswick 250
  • Newfoundland and Labrador 222
  • Prince Edward Island 52
  • Canadian Forces 26

According to NAPRA Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon do not license pharmacies. Quebec does not license pharmacies either. However, NAPRA has included the number of pharmacies in Ontario in their statistics.

Working in the Pharmaceutical Industry in Canada

There are various roles within the pharmaceutical industry in Canada ranging from administrative and sales roles to working in pharmacies or researching and developing new products.

What education you will need will depend on the type of work you are interested in. For example, graduates with a laboratory technology diploma will primarily work as technicians in hospitals or the biotechnology field. Chemistry graduates can work in a laboratory of a pharmaceutical company or medical or environmental sectors as, for example, analytical biochemists, researchers, quality controllers, or teachers. Obtaining a master’s degree will open further doors within the industry, for example, in biopharmacy.

Salaries in the pharmaceutical sector vary greatly depending on your education, role, and experience. For example, a research assistant can earn around $50,000 while a pharmacologist can earn up to $150,000. The hob prospects within the industry are good, especially as the demand for many medicines will increase with the aging population and as companies seek to develop new more effective drugs.

Leadership Roles in the Pharmaceutical Industry Are Mostly Occupied by Men

In Canada, up to 70% of pharmacists are women. However, only 44% of leadership roles in pharmaceutical organisations are filled by women. In Ontario, even fewer leadership roles are occupied by women at 22%.

Similarly, the industry has more work to do to achieve a more racially diverse leadership. According to research published by the National Library of Medicine, only 16.4% of leadership roles in the pharmaceutical industry are occupied by men or women with a racialised background, and only 5% of the roles were filled by women with a racialised background.

Anyone looking to work in the pharmaceutical industry is likely to need at least a college diploma. As the industry is set to experience growth in the future, the job prospects in the Canadian pharmaceutical industry are good.


Canada has one of the biggest pharmaceutical markets in the world. Canada also has a strong pharmaceutical industry that provides employment to people across several sub-sectors including research and development, manufacturing, sales & marketing, and pharmacies.

The pharmaceutical market in Canada is dominated by large international companies and almost ⅔ of all pharmaceutical sales are generated by the top ten products. The future is likely to see continued growth within the pharmaceutical industry as the aging population will increase the demand for medicines.

Frequently Asked Questions

The biggest pharmaceutical companues in Canada by market share are Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, AbbVie, and Novo Nordisk.

The estimated market size for the pharmaceutical industry in Canada was $65.9 billion in 2023. Canada represents a 2.2% share of the worldwide pharmaceutical marke and it is the 8th biggest pharmaceutical market in the world.

There are huge variation to how much you can earn in the pharmaceutical industry. It very much depends on your educational level, the role you want to work in, and your experience. For example, as a research assistant with a graduate diploma, you can expect to earn around $50,000, while a person with a PhD working as a pharmacologist can earn between $100,000 and $150,000.