Ireland’s pharmaceutical industry is considered a global hub of innovation and manufacturing excellence.
Its global reputation has been bolstered by the level of foreign direct investment (FDI) pouring into the country.
Around 120 overseas pharmaceutical companies have plants in Ireland, including nine of the biggest in the world. However, domestic players are also thriving.
The modern Irish pharmaceutical sector kicked off in earnest in 1964 when a New York-based company named Squibb — once a supplier of medicines to the Union Army during the American Civil War — became one of the first foreign pharmaceutical companies to locate here, bulk-manufacturing key ingredients for tablets and capsules in Swords, Co Dublin.
More than half-a-century later, what is now Bristol Myers Squibb was responsible for one of Ireland’s most significant pieces of FDI in life sciences when it built its $900m (€865m) biologic drug facility in Cruiserath, near Blanchardstown, Dublin.
The US pharmaceutical behemoth is not alone — Ireland is awash with the world’s biggest drug giants. Players such as Pfizer, MSD, Novartis and AbbVie, all of which appear on this year’s Best Employers list, all have plants here.
In its data covering international trade for 2021, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) noted that exports of medical and pharmaceutical products drove strong performance in Irish international trade overall. These accounted for 38pc of all merchandise exports last year, valued at €62.6bn.
The pharma giants have been ramping up production as demand for medicines and products connected with the treatment of Covid-19 soars ever higher.
According to the IDA, around €2bn is invested in biopharma research and development by IDA client companies annually, with capital investment averaging €1bn per year for the past 10.
The state agency responsible for attracting inward investment claims that Ireland has one of the “youngest and most highly educated populations in Europe”.
“This provides a rich and strong pool of talent for the sector, which continues to benefit from high levels of investment in third-level education and the growth of collaborative clusters,” the IDA says on its website.
Ireland’s universities have solid co-operative links with the sector in engineering, chemistry, biochemistry and biotechnology.
The IDA has said feedback from the industry regarding its skills needs goes directly into the universities and drives Ireland’s pursuit of “biopharmaceutical academic excellence”.
According to the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, the sector employs more than 24,500 people directly, with an equivalent number employed providing services to it.
Last September, AstraZeneca announced a $360m investment in a new manufacturing facility in Dublin. The facility, which could create 100 jobs, is set to reduce commercialisation lead times, costs and introduce more sustainable manufacturing processes.
Speaking with the Sunday Independent earlier this year, AstraZeneca Ireland boss Dan Wygal said the expertise within the Irish industry is “extraordinarily high”.