December 22, 2022

Pharma and Biotech Lab Trends: Ireland as a Hub for the Life Sciences & Health Industry 

Ireland got its first footing in the pharmaceutical industry in 1964 when Leo Laboratories and Bristol Myers Squibb invested in small molecule drug products and drug substances manufacturing in Dublin. The Emerald Isle has come a long way since then, with its first biotech investment (owed to Schering Plough—now MSD) making its debut in the early 1990s at the Brinny facility in Cork.

Ireland continued to rise in popularity within the life sciences realm, developing a “strong track record of project execution, talent, and long-term compliance” that’s valuable to many companies and has been challenging to match (A Tale of Irish Biopharma. The Medicine Maker, 2016).

The industry continues to advance, and the small but powerful island has not only succeeded in keeping pace with international business trends (often championing much larger regions with increased resources), but is also considered “one of the leading global hubs for the development, manufacturing, and supply of medicines and their ingredients.”

BioPharmaChem Ireland Director Matt Moran states, “Ireland remains the location of choice for new and cutting edge biopharmachem molecules.” It plans to adapt to stay “cutting edge” by “embracing new advanced therapeutics” that consider the “increasing complexity of the health innovation ecosystem.”

Looking at the Numbers: Ireland as a Global Leader in Pharma and Biotechnology

Ireland’s life sciences sector is expected to reach €730 billion by 2025.

According to Ibec Head of Sectors and Director of Medtech and Engineering Dr. Sinead Keogh, “…the biopharma, medtech, and digital health sectors in Ireland are renowned for attracting international investment with 700+ companies operating here across the country, employing 84,000 people directly, and making a global impact with exports in excess of €105 billion.”

Digital technologies are also expanding the industry, with the digital health segment projected to grow by more than 17.4% over a six-year period from 2021 to 2027, resulting in an accompanying profit increase to €426 billion.

There’s no doubt Ireland’s—and Europe’s—healthcare industry is expanding and evolving at a rapid pace. However, with the U.S. and Asia remaining primary competitors and growing at even faster rates, Ireland continues to push for more progress to avoid losing its footing in the lucrative industry.

As it stands, per Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Ireland, more than 85 pharmaceutical companies are operating in Ireland, including Novartis, AbbVie, Janssen, Pfizer, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, MSD, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Takeda. Additionally, 20 of the world’s top life sciences companies are thriving in Ireland, including Johnson & Johnson and Novartis.

Ireland’s Current Life Sciences & Pharmaceutical Industry R&D

Clinical research is necessary to advance healthcare. New therapies, professional development, and high-quality care are all supported by research efforts, improving patient outcomes and personalizing treatment. Dr. Mairead O’Driscoll wrote, “International evidence tells us that research-active healthcare systems have better outcomes for patients.”

Healthcare is becoming more personal and, thereby, more effective due to innovation in life sciences making the following opportunities available:

  • Genetic analysis
  • Cell and gene therapy
  • Wearables or biosensors
  • ICT, software, and nanotechnology for enhanced drug efficacy and delivery
  • AI and big data analytics to support early diagnosis
  • Improved therapeutic interventions focused on the individual

In 2020, Ireland’s Government created a plan for innovation backed by research, development, science, and technology. An Taoiseach at the time, Enda Kenny, T.D., stated that the vision of the strategy “is for Ireland to become a Global Innovation Leader driving a strong, sustainable economy and a better society.” The Executive Summary went on to state:

“Over recent years, Ireland has built an innovation-driven culture and is now firmly on the global map in terms of excellence of our research… Key to delivering our vision is a commitment to increasing public and private investment in research… We are committed to maintaining a focus on the impact and relevance of research… Research is fundamental to a strong, developed economy. In order for our enterprise base to thrive, it must be both resilient and internationally competitive… Investment in research yields new, higher value-added products and services, and more efficient processes. This leads to growth in productivity, which is a determinant of long-term growth. We will support greater engagement in R&D in both indigenous and foreign-owned enterprises in both SMEs and large-scale enterprises.”

Ireland’s pledge extends to several main focus areas, including health and medical. According to the report, the research-savvy country boasts the following:

  • Three of the world’s top infant formula manufacturers
  • Nine of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies
  • 17 of the top 25 global medical devices companies

IDA Ireland allocates funds for research, development, and innovation (RDI) projects annually. Sixty percent or just under €60m of the IDAs total grant-aid budget is set aside for these investments each year. Per the document, “spending on health services constitutes almost 10% of total [gross domestic product] (GDP),” with much of this expenditure publicly financed.

Ireland hopes to expand its foreign direct investment (FDI) into new areas and therapies within the coming years. The country is also keen on developing its own “homegrown start-ups and scale-ups” and establishing new life sciences innovation facilities, including The Campus Cherrywood, funded by domestic investments.

There are many benefits of health research in Ireland and the country’s continued reputation as a global leader in biopharma manufacturing and R&D, including:

  • Healthier exchequer: “through direct and indirect savings and… reallocation of resources within the health system”
  • Innovation: “producing new, marketable products and services that can be sold globally”
  • Collaboration: “between enterprise, academia, and… health services” due to “the strong presence in Ireland of multinational and indigenous life science and connected health companies”
  • Economic growth: “by ensuring a healthier workforce and… providing hi-tech employment opportunities”
  • Attractive environment: “for R&D investment by pharmaceutical, medical devices, and biotechnology industries”
  • International results: “macroeconomic analyses [show] very high returns on investment [ROI] in health research”

(Innovation 2020: Excellence. Talent. Impact. Ireland’s Strategy for Research and Development, Science, and Technology. Interdepartmental Committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation, 2015).

Life Sciences Career Development in Ireland

Education is essential for the growth and sustainability of Ireland’s life sciences industry. Ireland’s Government believes that all academic efforts should be fluid so that education can evolve as technology advances, ensuring that students are provided with the skills and knowledge coveted by employers and needed to succeed in our digital world.

A report generated by the Irish Council for Science, Technology, and Innovation (ICSTI) stresses the importance of creating attractive and high-quality jobs within the health and life sciences fields to fulfill the expectations of new, well-educated graduates hoping to apply their acquired degrees to a challenging and meaningful career. Doing so can help retain talent within Ireland’s borders, sustaining the economy and keeping Ireland relevant as a competitor and country of choice for the placement of laboratories and research projects.

In pharmaceuticals alone, Ireland is home to more than 150 companies directly employing over 30,000 people, making it the third largest pharmaceuticals exporter in the world. In addition, every region within Ireland has at least one significant employer in the life sciences sector, capitalizing on its considerable return and influence in our world—meaning those who choose to pursue a career in the same are likely to be seen as “long-term investments,” or of substantial value.

To establish graduates with “multi-disciplinarity” is the goal of educational institutions in Ireland, hoping to satisfy employers seeking to combine skills to enable better collaboration, improve innovation efforts, and ultimately develop more complex modalities that serve more focused patient populations in a fast-moving business space.

Life sciences and pharmaceutical-related roles or employment areas include:

  • Research & Development (R&D)
  • Manufacturing
  • Engineering
  • Quality Assurance (QA) and Control (QC)
  • Regulatory Affairs
  • Clinical Trials
  • Medical Devices
  • Laboratory Technicians
  • Data and Supply Chain Management
  • Data Analytics
  • Process Development
  • IT Support
  • Logistics
  • HR, Legal, and Administration

Looking Forward: Projected Life Sciences & Pharmaceutical Industry Growth in Ireland

Clinical research is currently a big contender for the top contributor of future development in Ireland’s life sciences sector, with the Irish Government’s aim to make the pharmaceutical industry a main player in the furtherance of its economic progress.

The ICSTI report highlights biotechnology as a principal influencer in the health and life sciences industries globally. Ireland is not unaware of its potential impact on major economic growth and, thereby, intends to continue to leverage the “second phase” of biotechnological development for social and industrial advancement. This second phase includes genomics, a type of molecular biology studying genomes or genetic material in all living organisms.

Ireland is a prime candidate for this undertaking, as the region is well established in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, agriculture, fisheries, food and drink, environment, and forensic science. These are all critical components of the health and life sciences industries and account for significant employment, exports, and revenue for the country. Additionally, they’re all presently undergoing transitions “strongly influenced by biotechnology.”

The country continues to “punch above its weight when it comes to life sciences,” according to The Irish Times, employing over 50,000 people in medical devices, pharma, and biotechnology. As noted by the publication, “All but one of the world’s 25 largest biotech and pharma companies have a significant presence in Ireland, and many of the world’s most prescribed drugs are manufactured here.”

Ireland has an ongoing stream of large-scale investments from multinationals, with Pfizer recently announcing its €1 billion investment in its new Clondalkin plant in 2022. Other recent investments include Boston Scientific’s €100 million expansion of its operations in Galway and Merck’s €440 million expansion in Cork.

Oxford Partners with Clients, Job seekers, and Consultants in Life Sciences and Pharma in Ireland

Oxford’s Cork office is ready and willing to answer your questions and partner with you as a client or consultant, furthering your ambitions in your career or business.

Whether you want to start your career in the life sciences or pharmaceutical industries or need to find highly skilled individuals who can fill temporary gaps or short-term roles within your science and technology-based company, Oxford can help!

Our Lab Services team can drive results for you or your organization. We strive to stay ahead of current trends so that we can better anticipate your needs and ensure your continued success within the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors. In addition, we have the knowledge and expertise to help further your professional goals or provide you with the resources you need to finish complicated projects timely and efficiently.

Quality. Commitment.

Whether you want to advance your business or your career, Oxford is here to help. With nearly 40 years’ experience, we know that a great partnership is key to success. Start a conversation today.