Shift to Biomanufacturing Offsetting Ireland's Small Molecule Woes

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Molecule

Could biomanufacturing keep the flag flying in Ireland?
Could biomanufacturing keep the flag flying in Ireland?
Biomanufacturing is offsetting a decline in Ireland's small molecule industry caused by the patent cliff and cheaper manufacturing options in the East say industry groups.

According to a recent Irish Exporters Association (IEA) survey of the Top 250 Exporters in Ireland and Northern Ireland​ shipments from life sciences firms fell 2.5% in 2012 due to patent loss for Blockbuster small molecules – notably Pfizer’s Lipitor – and competition from lower cost manufacturing destinations.

However, the drug industry in Ireland is adapting according to Bill Godwin, VP of New Business at the Irish Industrial Development Authority (IDA), who told there is a “shift” ​from APIs and small molecules towards biomanufacturing.

"The 70s and 80s were very successful for small molecules, with at one point seven out of the top ten blockbusters being manfactured in Ireland. We have seen a shift, not overnight, with the IDA working with firms to migrate from small molecule to biopharmaceuticals."

This was supported by Niall Stobie, head of the IEA’s Life Sciences Division, who added that: “There has been a big push in the past few years to get biopharma into Ireland.

MSD [Merck & Co. in North America], Genzyme and Lilly have all increased their presence in the sector. The large players are still here but there is also an increase in smaller biopharma and the industry is continuing to gain momentum.”

Gerry Kenny, also from the IDA, added that due to its skilled workforce, continuous training and government support “Ireland has seen the biggest investment in biotech outside the US.”

Ireland's in the Stream

These comments are supported by recent developments. In July, for example, Regeneron said​ it is in late-stage talks to acquire a 400,000 sq ft facility in Limerick from computer manufacturer Dell in order to manufacture biologics.

The "shift" is further demonstrated with Lilly's €300m ($444m) new facility in Kinsale​, announced last year, and set to support its biotech platform whilst working in conjunction with its existing API plant on the site.

Similarly, Pfizer has committed $100m (€75m)​ to expanding its mammalian cell culture unit at its Grange Castle site in Dublin, offsetting the recent announcement it was to close a third API plant​ in as many years. 

MSD too, which said in March it would shutter an API plant in County Wicklow​, has also been building its biomanufacturing presence in Ireland over the last few year with investment at its plant in Carlow​.

The Future’s Bright

Kenny said that although API plant closures make headlines, Ireland has over 80 pharma and biopharma facilities – 35 FDA approved – and “employment has gone up overall.”

Furthermore, he said, Ireland’s workforce is better trained and more suited to biomanufacturing than in emerging markets which has led to “some companies taking work back in-house as quality has become an issue” ​in low-cost countries.

When asked about the outlook of the industry Godwin was optimistic. “The next wave of biopharma is becoming very active,”​ he told us. “The IDA is currently talking to a number of US firms looking to bring their manufacturing to Ireland.”

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