05/08/2023 | Pharma Innovation

All eyes on Ireland

UN trade statistics identify Ireland as the world’s third largest pharmaceutical exporter. But for those closely involved within this six-decade success story, there is still much work to be done.

By the time exhibitors begin filing into the Frankfurt Fairgrounds next year, another milestone will quietly and unobtrusively have been reached. It will be exactly 60 years since Ireland made its first steps towards establishing itself as a global hub for the production of pharmaceuticals. In premises it had acquired a mere six years earlier, LEO Laboratories began producing small molecule drug products in Crumlin, Dublin, a former countryside suburb famous as the birthplace of the likes of the writer Brendan Behan, the rock star Phil Lynott and the MMA legend Conor McGregor. At the same time, a few miles to the North in the county town of Swords, Bristol Myers Squibb opened an API plant, two decisions that marked the country’s first foray into drug production.

The following three decades saw wave after wave of investment in large-scale, small molecule intermediate and drug substance facilities, many of them American and attracted to the growing industrial hub of Cork, bringing with them inspiration for household-name blockbuster drugs.

And this shows no signs of abating with experts predicting the sector will grow further. Enterprise Ireland estimates that the total life sciences sector across medical devices, pharma and biopharma employs over 50,000 people directly and exports more than € 45 billion a year. As an even more tangible example: three of the world’s top infant formula manufacturers currently operate from there, along with nine of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies and 17 of the top 25 global medical device companies. Representing all this is Biopharmachem Ireland which acts as an active link between all key stakeholders, including industry, the Government, researchers and the general public, highlighting in their words, “the unique attractiveness” of Ireland as a location for drug supply and development.

It’s got a lot going for it. Historic links to US make it an appealing trans-Atlantic option, backed by an exceptionally strong university system that produces high-calibre graduates. In fact, one of its key challenges concern sector mobility with many calls on an, existing and limited, talent pool, according to Matt Moran, director of BioPharmaChem who we interview overleaf.

ACHEMA Inspire: Could you summarise the key advantages of Ireland?

  • __Matt Moran: It’s a significant hub for manufacturing and development across all modes of manufacture – small molecule and large. Originally, this was down to a focussed strategy by Government and its agencies such as the IDA to bring mobile investment knowledge-based industries to the country.

ACHEMA Inspire: Why was this important?

  • __Matt Moran: This was done to take what had been a mainly agricultural economy into modern export-oriented activities. It was first achieved through low rates of corporation tax and making dedicated land banks available for plant set-up. So, around the late 1960s you saw the establishment of a number of API operations in the country – Pfizer, Smithkline, MSD for example.
    Early on, it became obvious to the sector – especially the US-based part of it – that Ireland had a very strong skillset and quickly became very adept at producing high-quality pharmaceutical products. This would have led to the attraction of other companies – many forward-integrating into drug product manufacture too – companies such as LeoPharma, Servier, Gilead and Wyeth. In the mid 90s we witnessed a wave of investment into biotech. We did lobby Government strongly to prioritise biotech. The first major investment was Wyeth, now Pfizer in Grangecastle followed by companies such as Alexion, BMS and Regeneron.

ACHEMA Inspire: How would you describe the current position?

  • __Matt Moran: You now have a sector with many advantages – a strong well-educated workforce, critical mass and a highly collaborative sector – much of this co-ordinated by ourselves – and access to the EU, which is even more important post-Brexit and good regulatory track record both on the quality and EHS side.
    In the mid 90s we also saw the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to oversee investment in R&D. It prioritises biotech and technology. We have also seen the development of a support infrastructure for process development and training – including The National Bioprocessing Training and Research Centre (NIBRT), The Pharmaceutical Technology Centre (PMTC) and Investment remains very strong and we are seeing around €2 billion per annum in capital investment.
    Recent announcements by Eli Lilly and Pfizer to invest a further one billion euros each in biotech manufacture are evidence of this. We like to keep at the cutting edge, always looking for reinvestment, to spot the latest trends in the industry.

ACHEMA Inspire: What do you mean by highly collaborative exactly?

  • __Matt Moran: We tend to work very closely. The nature of the Irish people to be good communicators. We collaborate very well in a serious and effective way. We’re always in and out of each other’s plants which is quite unusual elsewhere but that’s part of life here.

ACHEMA Inspire: Given the weight of international investment, are there still challenges?

  • __Matt Moran: Many. We have seen the impact of the pandemic, global conflicts, and changes to corporate tax rates. These have manifested in a significant impact to global supply chains and a renewed focus on our national competitiveness, but here’s still a need for a future-focused industrial policy championed by Government, for example.
    The Irish Government needs to publish a Life Sciences Plan setting out a 10-year strategy for the sector to build on Ireland’s extensive life sciences expertise, demonstrated by the successes of the COVID-19 response. The strategy should highlight what all life science stakeholders – regulators, industry, academia, NGOs, HSE – need to do to create an environment in which the life sciences industry can continue to grow and flourish.
    A central part of this needs to be the establishment of an Office for Life Sciences to champion research, innovation and the use of technology to transform health and care services. The office should be led by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with support from other departments. With COVID putting the spotlight on the sector, it is time for the Government to fully recognise the potential for Ireland to become a global leader.

The man behind BioPharmaChem

Mr Moran, a father of three, was born in London to Irish parents before the family returned to Ireland where he went to local schools, eventually graduating in Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin in 1981. He also holds an MBA from University College Dublin’s Smurfit School of Business. He worked for more than ten years in the pharmaceutical industry where he held several management positions. He is currently also a member of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), a Board member of the Active Pharmaceuticals Ingredients (API) Committee of CEFIC (CEFIC/APIC) and The European Association for Bioindustries (Europabio).


Richard Burton

Editor / World Show Media


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