These are the 10 best countries for life sciences research

China and Australia are shaking up this group of countries leading in the life sciences.

20 January 2020

Gemma Conroy

Photographer is my life/Getty Images

The US dominates in life sciences research in the Nature Index.

The United States and United Kingdom lead this global top 10, but China achieved the greatest increase in high-quality life sciences research in a single year.

While the US, France, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands saw a decrease in their life sciences output in the journals tracked by the Nature Index between 2017 and 2018, China achieved a 14% increase, which allowed it to overtake Germany.

China, now in third place, is hot on the heels of the UK.

Further down the ranks, Australia knocked Switzerland out of eighth spot for the first time in three years with a Share+ of 453.33, representing a 7.8% increase in life sciences research output.

Although France’s output fell by 6.8% - the largest drop in Share among the leading countries - it maintained its place as the world’s sixth biggest producer of research in the discipline.

See below for Nature Index's top 10 countries in life sciences research.

1. United States of America

Share: 9,030.22; Change in Share 2017-18: -2.1%

Despite its Share falling by 2.9% since 2017, the US continues its dominance of high-quality life sciences research in this global ranking. Papers in the discipline account for nearly half of the nation’s research in the Nature Index.

The US’s strong performance is bolstered by its top-performing institutions: Harvard University, Stanford University, MIT, and the US National Institutes of Health, which are also among the top 10 institutions in the life sciences in the world.

In the 2019 Nature Index Biomedical Sciences top 200 table, the US claimed seven of the top 10 positions and 15 of the top 20.

2. United Kingdom

Share: 1,551.37; Change in Share 2017-18: 3.6%

The looming shadow of Brexit may be damaging research in the UK, but the nation’s contribution to the life sciences remains strong. For the fourth year running, the UK has held its own as the second biggest producer of life sciences articles in journals tracked by the Nature Index.

The country’s top institutions, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and Imperial College London, are major players in the life sciences, with Cambridge ranking among the top 10 institutions in the life sciences in the Nature Index 2019 Annual Tables.

3. China

Share: 1,447.47; Change in Share 2017-18: 14%

China’s rise in the research rankings is well-known, but that doesn’t make it any less extraordinary. In just one year, the country’s Share in the life sciences has increased by an impressive 14%, the largest growth of all countries in this global top 10.

Its top-performing institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, took fifth place in the top 10 institutions in the life sciences in the Nature Index 2019 Annual Tables.

Peking, Tsinghua, and Zheijiang University are also big names in Chinese life sciences research, and featured in Nature Index's top 200 biomedical sciences ranking and top 100 healthcare institutes for 2019.

4. Germany

Share: 1,328.86; Change in Share 2017-18: 1.5%

With its Share growing by 1.5% between 2017 and 2018, Germany's performance in the life sciences remains strong. The country’s leading institution, the Max Planck Society, is among the top 10 institutions in the life sciences in the world.

German institutions also placed highly in Nature Index's rankings of the top biomedical and healthcare institutions, and are among the top 50 corporate institutions in the life sciences.

5. Japan

Share: 721.78; Change in Share 2017-18: -3%

Japan is working hard to retain its standing among the world’s leading countries for life sciences research. For the fourth year running, the country has maintained its position as the fifth biggest producer of high-quality life sciences articles in the Nature Index.

Among its top-performing institutes are the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, and Osaka University.

Japan is also gaining prominence in the biomedical sciences. Its institutions took out 10 spots in the global top 200 institutions in biomedical sciences, as tracked by the Nature Index.

6. France

Share: 674.3; Change in Share 2017-2018: -6.8%

While France’s life sciences research fell by almost 7% in 2018, it retained sixth place in this global ranking for the fourth consecutive year. The life sciences and physical sciences account for the majority of its Share in the Nature Index.

France's highest-performing institute overall, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), ranks among the world’s top 20 life sciences institutions, in the Nature Index.

France is also home to multinational pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi, which placed among the top 50 corporate institutions in the biomedical sciences, as well as the top 50 corporate institutions in the life sciences in 2019.

7. Canada

Share: 599.14; Change in Share 2017-2018: -0.1%

With the life sciences accounting for nearly half of Canada’s overall Share in the Nature Index, the country continues to be highly ranked in the field.

Its prominence in the life sciences is reflected in its top three universities: the University of Toronto, McGill University, and the University of British Columbia, each of which has an institutional focus on life sciences research.

Canadian institutions took out seven places in the Nature Index global top 200 biomedical sciences institutions and five spots in the top 100 healthcare institutions in 2019.

8. Australia

Share: 453.33; Change in Share 2017-2018: 7.8%

Between 2017 and 2018, Australia's Share in life sciences research output increased by an impressive 7.8%. The University of Queensland is its best performing institute in the discipline, followed by the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

These three leading institutions also make an appearance in the Nature Index global top 200 biomedical sciences institutions, along with the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney).

9. Switzerland

Share: 450.38; Change in Share 2017-2018: 3.4%

Switzerland may be known as a physical sciences powerhouse, but it punches well above its weight in the life sciences, too.

Its top institutions in the discipline are the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, the University of Zurich, and the University of Lausanne.

Switzerland is also home to F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG and Novartis International AG, two multinational heavyweights in the pharmaceutical sector, signifying the country’s strength in the biomedical sciences.

10. Netherlands

Share: 306.62; Change in Share 2017-2018: -0.7%

The Netherlands has held its own at tenth place in the life sciences for the third consecutive year, with the discipline accounting for around one-third of the country’s overall Share.

The life sciences also make up the majority of the country’s high-quality research at its leading institutions: Utrecht University, the University of Groningen, and the University of Amsterdam. Utrecht was ranked among the top 100 institutions in the life sciences in the Nature Index 2019 Annual Tables.

Several prominent healthcare institutions are based in the Netherlands, with the Erasmus University Medical Center and University Medical Center Utrecht ranking in the top 50 healthcare institutions in the world.


+Share, formerly referred to in the Nature Index as Fractional Count (FC), is a measure of a country’s contribution to articles in the 82 journals tracked by the index, calculated according to the proportion of its affiliated authors on articles relative to all authors.


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