Ireland is open: The biologics boom boosting the Irish economy

The life sciences industry has an important role in the Irish economy, with sectors such as biologics booming across the country. Rory Mullen, head of biopharma at Ireland’s economic development agency IDA Ireland tells pharmaphorum why business is blossoming in the Emerald Isle.

With an attractive corporate tax rate and the youngest workforce in the EU, Ireland continues to be a popular destination for life science companies to settle. Although cities such as Dublin and Cork were the traditional centres for pharmaceutical companies, a new wave of regional investment is happening across the country.

Rory Mullen“Pharma has always been a key sector for IDA Ireland. Some of the first investors we got when Ireland opened its economy in the 1960s were Leo Pharma from Europe and Pfizer from the US,” says Rory Mullen, head of biopharma at Ireland’s economic development agency IDA Ireland.

“Now we are seeing foreign and direct investment all over Ireland and Ireland is a small country! People are prepared to travel and relocate for the senior jobs and there is such a low turnover if you establish in a small regional location. It really suits some of the companies as you are never too far from a university and can get a very strong retention rate in staff.”

“If you come to Dublin and speak to someone in a pub, restaurant, or taxi – they will have a brother, sister, cousin, or friend that works for a foreign company. It is a recognised part of our economy and we are very welcoming and open to foreign investment”

 

Growth in the biologics space is particularly strong due to the Irish government’s investment in the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research & Training (NIBRT), based at University College Dublin. It is now one of the world’s leading institutes for training programs to support complex biomanufacturing processes.

“NIBRT is a very good example of our infrastructure investment and how we try to proactively ensure that our clients have whatever they need in terms of skills availability. We have a very small and agile government so it can respond to the needs of clients quickly and our foreign investment clients are very important to us,” says Mullen.

With over 20% of the workforce employed directly or indirectly by overseas companies, foreign and direct investment is an essential part of the Irish economy. “When we started to industrialise in the 60s, there were few large companies in Ireland, so we had a small tax base and could afford to offer a low tax rate to companies as primarily we wanted the jobs and economic activity they create,” explains Mullen.

“If you come to Dublin and speak to someone in a pub, restaurant, or taxi – they will have a brother, sister, cousin, or friend that works for a foreign company. It is a recognised part of our economy and we are very welcoming and open to foreign investment.”

Ireland looks East

The US is the largest source of investment, with about 70% coming from the States, although IDA Ireland is strengthening ties elsewhere. “We have really bulked up operations over the last ten years in Asia – throughout India, China, and the rest of Asia,” says Mullen.

The agency is beginning to see the fruits of its success, with Chinese company WuXi opening its first operation outside of China – a biologics drugs substance facility in Dundalk and Korean company SK Biotek settling at Swords Campus, Dublin.

However, attracting Asian investment has not been easy, says Mullen. “While we have a very proven value proposition with the US, it has been difficult to get to understand the Asian market. It operates differently a lot of the time and goes by acquisition rather than greenfield investment. However, we have seen interest in Ireland increase and we are looking to continue that”.

Following Brexit, the U K will also be a major target for Ireland as British companies look to establish an EU base. UK’s withdrawal from the EU has also created opportunities for Ireland, according to Mullen, with pharma packaging and distribution services such as Central Pharma opening Irish operations.  “Some of these companies primarily had bases in Wales, so it is something we are seeing interest in as companies want to ensure they can either sell their regulated services or distribute regulated goods in the EU seamlessly.

“Ireland would have preferred if the UK had stayed in Europe but the one upside for us is that we are now the only substantial English-speaking country in the EU and the only country with common law jurisdiction. As a country we are fully committed to the EU – over 70% of people in Ireland believe that the EU is a good institution and being part of the union has been very good for us.”

Despite the pandemic, IDA Ireland plans to see continued investment in 2021. The agency is beginning a new ‘Strategy 2021 – 2024’ targeting 800 investments and 50,000 new jobs with a focus on five pillars – Growth, Transformation, Regions, Sustainability, and Impact. While business could be challenging as travel restrictions ensue, Mullen is optimistic.

“We found we can continue to do existing business very well; what’s difficult is developing new relationships. COVID-19 may impact business, but I hope in the long term, the global economy will bounce back hugely once life resumes as normal. I think there will be an explosion of activity and I am hopeful we will begin to see growth.”