Biotech manufacturing is Ireland’s ‘sweet spot’, IDA says

By Vassia Barba

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/miroslav_1)
Image: Getty/miroslav_1)

Related tags Ireland IDA Ireland Brexit Manufacturing

Ireland’s economy rises to the challenges of turnkey biotechnology areas, such as cell and gene therapies, during Brexit turmoil.

With an average annual biotech capital investment of over €1bn ($1.12bn) on the Green Isle during the past seven years, Ireland’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA Ireland) now faces the challenge of maintaining these high rates all the way through the Brexit.

The country houses the biotech facilities of companies such as ABEC, AbbVie, MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada), Allergan​ and the recently announced​ construction plans of WuXi Biologics, for the world’s largest single-use manufacturing facility.

During the BIO Convention in Philadelphia, BioPharma-Reporter (BPR)​ spoke with Ivan Houlihan (IH) ​and Shay Power (SP)​, VPs of IDA Ireland’s Life Sciences department.

The Irish government's investment and development agency partners with companies to help them access the European market, offering a post-Brexit, English-speaking choice inside the European Union (EU).

According to the executives, Ireland is appealing to companies because of its low tax rates, its workforce and the access to the European labor market, as what used to be a small, closed economy is open for business, with 15% of its workforce now international.

However, they argued that it will be challenging to maintain the momentum of recent years, since turnkey areas, such as cell and gene therapies, require a ‘different scale of investment’.

Ivan Houlihan (left) and Shay Power (right), Vice Presidents of Life Sciences, IDA Ireland
Ivan Houlihan (left) and Shay Power (right), Vice Presidents of Life Sciences, IDA Ireland

BPR: How has Brexit affected pharmaceutical investment in Ireland?

IH:​ Brexit was an unfortunate decision by the UK, we didn’t advocate on that and we are sorry to lose a major ally at the European table. A lot of companies, particularly US companies that have operations in the UK, will find themselves out of the EU. So, we have seen a significant number of companies choosing Ireland as their de facto EU location. Companies such as Almac and Wasdell, for example, have set operations in Ireland because they needed a location that will remain within the EU to release their products to market.

BPR: What support does the EU provide to Ireland that benefits industry?

IH:​ The support we have received from Europe is more on infrastructure and software, not directly related to creating investments from multinationals. However, being a member of the EU, we all abide by the same state aid and regional guidelines, in terms of offering incentives to companies.

SP:​ There are multiple layers of opportunities for states to tap into the research agenda across Europe. For example, Ireland fully participates in Horizon 2020​, which funds research.

BPR: How do you see the biotechnology industry growing in Ireland in the next five years?

IH:​ Our ‘sweet spot’ is manufacturing. Companies that have a drug in Phase III or that have recently had a drug approved and want to bring the production in-house, this is where Ireland really comes to the fore. We have such experience and in-depth knowledge, in terms of manufacturing. So, in five years we will hopefully have manufacturing operations in novel areas of therapeutics and cell and gene therapies.

SP:​ During the last seven years, we have had capital investments of over €1bn. That is a high number, and to maintain this momentum will be challenging, bacause turnkey areas, such as cell and gene therapies, require a different scale of investment. However, we continue to invest in our infrastructure to support the industry, not just in terms of new therapies and new technologies, but also in adopting best practice from other industry sectors in Ireland, such as the very strong technology sector and digital capability. We are working with the pharmaceutical and the biologics sector to take some of those learnings on board. The digital sector has a lot to offer, and biotech companies benefit from the diversity of the industry, as we have seen them recruiting engineering talent from Intel or Google to work on their digital strategy. This cross-fertilization of ideas drives a stronger sector in Ireland and we encourage that.

BPR: What advantages can companies find today in Ireland’s market?

IH: ​One of the cornerstones of our economic policies and a strong value proposition is the tax rate, which remains stable at 12.5% and we don't expect that to change. However, more and more companies are now coming to Ireland in search of talent – and they find it because we have access to the European labor market. Ireland is an attractive location for European employees to live and work because they can get access to good employment opportunities, with world leading companies. It's almost a self-fulfilling kind of prophecy. Major companies, like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer, have built long-established operations in Ireland and they continue to reinvest, so it is seen as a very good opportunity for employees and companies to move and seek opportunities in Ireland.

BPR: Is the level of academic research in Ireland in line with the availability of talent?

SP:​ We have worked very closely with our universities and created research centers linked to other relevant universities’ departments within the educational ecosystem, and also an industry steering group that links into the research center. So, our research centers are very much grounded and focused on the industry. An example is the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training, which provides training for current good manufacturing process (cGMP), upstream, downstream development and all of the necessary technologies to 4,000 people per year.

And we try not to create academics in ivory towers doing what they want. The funding model is very much focused on making sure that our universities and our research centers stay attuned to the needs of industry.

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