Although the pharmaceutical industry does not usually feature prominently in overviews of research on development, the sector has considerable significance for both health and economic development. This article reviews research on the pharmaceutical industry in the global South, identifying some broader themes that echo with prominent debates in the wider realm of development studies. In research in the 1970s and early 1980s, the pharmaceutical industry seemed to represent a near-classic illustration of the power and influence of large, Northern-based multinational companies, producing dependent development. Later research focused on patent issues in relation to the debate over the TRIPs Agreement, with policy developments in the sector being used to highlight institutional monocropping within global governance. More recently again, research on access to medicines, patent policymaking and local pharmaceutical production has highlighted complementarities between industry and health. Increasingly bridging an oft-present dichotomy, which is also manifest within geographical research, between economic and social aspects of development, recent research on pharmaceuticals challenges some conventional aspects of development theory.