Irish pharmachem industry fights to maintain its global position

MattThe recent announcements by MSD Swords and Pfizer Newbridge to lay off close to 800 workers have prompted much comment. Some commentators have suggested that this prefaces a wave of job lay offs followed by a major contraction of the sector in Ireland – a sector that is crucial to the Irish economy accounting for over 50 per cent of all goods exported from this island. This equates to some €55 billion in 2012. The industry also employs around 50,000 people directly and indirectly.

The reality is, in fact, quite different. What is happening in Ireland is that the industry is evolving and transforming. A quick glance at the number of capital investments ongoing at present (see Table 1, bottom) supports this. The Irish industry is simply responding to the global challenges facing the sector everywhere.

These challenges were clearly seen and recognised by the membership of PharmaChemical Ireland a number of years ago. Global blockbusters – many of which are manufactured in Ireland – nearing the end of their patent life, diminishing research and development (R&D) pipelines and continual pressure on healthcare costs and the price of medicines have all combined to produce a very difficult operating environment for the industry.

PharmaChemical Ireland launched the first of a series of three Strategy Documents in 2010 at the Drug, Chemical & Associated Technologies Association meeting in New York city, outlining the industry’s response to these challenges. Primarily, the Irish industry will invest in more development activities and in biotechnology-based development and manufacture. The figure below traces the lifecycle of a drug from discovery through to the market.

Traditionally, the industry here has occupied the right hand side of this diagram. The strategy now is to move incrementally towards the left of this, to pursue a ‘development-plus-manufacturing’ strategy, or D+M. This will allow for co-location of development and manufacturing, facilitating a seamless flow from the laboratory or clinic through scale up and to launch.

Ireland is well placed to exploit such a model and, in many ways, this is the only model by which biotech manufacture can be truly successful, given the complexity of biotech manufacture.

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