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By Dolores Serrano and Naila A. Mugheirbi

Dolores Serrano-finalNaila Mugheirbi-finalFor a country of just 4.5 million people, Ireland is undoubtedly a global player in pharmaceutical manufacturing. It is one of the largest net exporters of pharmaceuticals in the world with exports of over €50 billion in 2011 (half of all the exports from the country).

However, the importance of the pharmaceutical industry to the Irish economy is relatively new. Initially, the pharmaceutical sector grew from a small number of facilities producing active ingredients in bulk for export starting in the 1960s. Following a government program that was successful in attracting foreign direct investment, many of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies established manufacturing and processing facilities in Ireland, producing a wide range of pharmaceutical dosage forms. More than 120 overseas companies now have plants here, including nine of the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

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Pictures taken by Naila Mugheirbi from the front of Trinity College, Dublin.

Of those 120, there is now a substantial indigenous industry in excess of 100 companies involved in the pharmaceutical sector, ranging from drug discovery and delivery to the development and manufacturing of human and veterinary medicinal products, along with companies that offer support services and technologies to other pharmaceutical companies. The industry directly employs almost 25,000 people, half of whom hold a third level qualification, with another 20,000 people employed in the provision of services to the industry.

The government agency responsible for funding academic research, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), encourages collaboration between academic institutes and industry. SFI works closely with other government agencies such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in assisting both foreign and indigenous industries. The Irish government has recently committed over €8 billion to the funding of a number of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical research centers aimed at promoting an entrepreneurial science culture and building academic-industrial partnerships in an effort to establish Ireland as a center of excellence for pharmaceutical research.

Among the pharmaceutical research centers created are the Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre (SSPC) and the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER). The SSPC is a global hub of pharmaceutical process innovation and advanced manufacturing that leads the way for next generation drug manufacturing and spans the entire pharmaceutical production chain from synthesis of the molecule, to the isolation of the material, and the formulation of the medicine. It is a unique collaboration between 22 industry partners, 9 research performing organizations, and 12 international academic collaborators. The AMBER center comprises of a team of leading international researchers from areas such as nanoscience, material science, physics, chemistry, medicine, immunology, bioengineering, and pharmaceutical sciences. The primary objective is to create new knowledge and intellectual property and to successfully transfer this knowledge to industry, to licensing agreements, and to staff.

The great support from government agencies and pharmaceutical research centers has promoted that entrepreneurial science culture and has allowed building strong academic-industrial partners. Ireland can be considered a niche for pharmaceutical companies—both for big pharma industries and small spin-off companies that are growing together, becoming leaders in the pharmaceutical market.

Dolores R. Serrano is a research fellow in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Technology at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. She was awarded a European doctorate in pharmacy from the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
Naila A. Mugheirbi is a Ph.D. student in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Technology at Trinity College, Dublin (2012 to present). She was awarded an M.Sc. in Nanoscience with distinction from the University of Nottingham, UK (top of the class of 2010).