Cork is playing a major role in the pharma industry

With close to 14,000 people employed in pharmaceutical, biopharma and medical technology companies across the city and county, the life science industry is one of the most important sectors for Cork. Gráinne McGuinness finds out more.
Cork is playing a major role in the pharma industry

Early morning at Loughbeg with the GlaxoSmithKline plant near Currabinny. Picture: David Creedon/ Anzenberger

FROM long-standing employers such as MSD and GSK to newer entrants such as Hovione, Cork has built a formidable international reputation in the life sciences sector and the region is reaping the rewards in jobs.

With regular investment announcements, such as BioMarin’s expansion of its Shanbally facility, the IDA are confident Cork will remain a vibrant centre of excellence long into the future

“We continue to be an attractive location,” Ray O’Connor, IDA South West Regional Manager, said.

“We are seeing continued expansion and investment.

There are currently 32 companies operating in the sector in Cork, 23 in the pharmaceutical or biopharma category and nine medical technology companies.

Mr O’Connor sees particular possibilities for growth in biopharma and medical tech, and his optimism is shared by the Cork Chamber.

The Pfizer site in Ringaskiddy, which has been a hub for the pharma industry for many years.
The Pfizer site in Ringaskiddy, which has been a hub for the pharma industry for many years.

“Looking ahead, we are confident that Cork will continue to play a core role in Ireland’s successful pharma and biopharma story,” Conor Healy, CEO of Cork Chamber, told the Evening Echo.

“Ireland is home to nine of the top 10 pharma companies globally.

“Combined, the pharmaceutical industry contributes over €78bn in total exports, with a very significant proportion manufactured in Cork by longstanding investors such as Pfizer, MSD, Novartis, GSK, Eli Lilly and Janssen.”

There were fears that US president Donald’s Trump’s policy of encouraging American companies to return manufacturing from abroad would impact on the Cork pharma sector. But since his election in November 2016, numerous companies have announced further investment in their Cork facilities.

Eli Lilly has been a major employer in the Kinsale area since the late 1970s when its facility in Dunderrow became the company’s first manufacturing investment in Ireland.

Since then, the company has invested many times in expanding the site and a significant phase of capacity expansion is underway. Lilly also employs 400 people in a range of services roles at their Global Business Solutions Centre in Eastgate Business Park in Little Island.

That too is set for major expansion, with a 70,000 sq ft office block capable of housing up to 500 additional staff, due to be completed in 2019.

Ringaskiddy has long been a particular hub for the pharma industry, with GSK and Pfizer just two of a number of companies manufacturing in the area.

Cork Chamber is pushing hard for infrastructure upgrades in the area, believing improvements are vital in order to maintain pharmaceutical investment in Ringaskiddy.

“It is a global industry and Cork competes for inward investment on the international stage,” Mr Healy said.

“Ringaskiddy has one of the highest concentration of employment in the pharmaceutical sector globally and that requires appropriate infrastructure.

“Delivery of the M28 road to Ringaskiddy is absolutely central to enable more companies to create new jobs and grow their Irish footprint.”

He also said it is crucial that a sufficient talent pool of Irish graduates is available to the industry, adding:

“Continued government investment in our education sector is essential to continue to lead the way globally from a skills perspective.”

Jacinta Collins, Communications Director with GSK, agreed on the importance of an educated workforce.

“Having access to a strong pool of science and engineering professionals is vitally important to our business and ensures we get from pioneering science in our laboratories to making innovative, high-quality products on an industrial scale,” she said.

MSD’s connection with Cork stretches also back decades, with 35 years manufacturing at their Brinny site near Innishannon.

In 2017, it announced a €280m investment in their Irish operations and is currently recruiting for some of the several hundred new jobs that investment is bringing.

Site lead, Barry Mulcahy, told the Evening Echo ‘it’s an exciting time to be doing business in Ireland’.

“For MSD Ireland, a lot of our success here is down to our diverse and talented workforce, as well as a business and regulatory environment that encourages scientific and clinical innovation,” he said.

“There are certainly challenges for businesses across Ireland, not just in Cork and not just limited to the pharmaceutical sector, such as affordability of housing, cost of living, high tax and lack of investment of infrastructure which needs to be pro-actively tackled.

“Education and skills development is also crucial. It’s important that ‘Ireland Inc’ continues to nurture and foster the sector, such as creating policies that encourage the best and brightest talent from across the world to take up careers here.”

Ringaskiddy is important part of GSK’s global footprint 

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Currabinny
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Currabinny

GLOBAL healthcare company GSK has been operating in Ringaskiddy since 1974, and communications director Jacinta Collins described their Cork base as ‘a really important part of GSK’s global manufacturing footprint’.

The Ringaskiddy site produces the active ingredients for a range of medicines for diseases such as childhood cancer, depression, diabetes, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis.

The company also has a dedicated R&D pilot plant on site.

Ms Collins said investment and recruiting in Cork is ongoing.

“There has been a series of investments at the site of late, including upgrading of our labs, and the opening of a kilo scale facility in 2016 and in 2017 we introduced continuous manufacturing — an innovative new technology, designed and developed by our team in Cork,” she said.

The purpose-built kilo scale facility allowed the site to begin manufacturing highly specialised active ingredients for newer, targeted oncology medicines and it was described as a ‘substantial investment demonstrating GSK’s strong commitment to our Cork site’.

“It’s a wonderful endorsement of the world-class technical capability we have here and will work to attract new business for the operation,” then-site director Joe Power said.

“It will also be very rewarding for our employees, knowing the difference they will be making to patients all over the world who will ultimately take the medicines that started out here in Cork.” GSK works closely with third-level institutions in Cork city and have also seen excellent results from their apprenticeship programme.

“We are impressed by the calibre of candidates, most from the local Cork area, year on year,” she said.

“This helps ensure that we continue to have top-class engineering capability.

“Our collaborations with CIT and UCC are also really important in nurturing future talent. We have students studying energy engineering doing six-month placements in our energy team, many of whom do final year projects based on their experience of GSK Cork. This year we also have a PhD student working with us.” GSK also reaffirms its commitment to local communities through their annual IMPACT Awards, which recognise and reward community-based healthcare charities.

Last year’s winners included Cork’s Sexual Health Centre, which provides information and support in Cork city.

BioMarin International planning to expand Cork operation 

Robert Baffi, Executive Vice President, BioMarin International, pictured at the announcement by BioMarin International Ltd. that it is investing in a new $43 million Drug Product Filling Project at its Shanbally facility. Picture: Adrian O'Herlihy
Robert Baffi, Executive Vice President, BioMarin International, pictured at the announcement by BioMarin International Ltd. that it is investing in a new $43 million Drug Product Filling Project at its Shanbally facility. Picture: Adrian O'Herlihy

RARE-DISEASE specialists BioMarin International Ltd are the latest company to announce major investment and expansion to their Cork facilities.

The company have been as had a presence in Cork since 2011 when they first opened the doors on their Shanbally facility.

Now employing 350 people at the plant, earlier this month they announced plans for a new drug product filling project at the site.

The investment, estimated at approximately €37m, will allow the company to expand its operational manufacturing capacity and meet the rise in the global demand for its therapies to treat rare genetic diseases that mostly affect children.

Planning is to be submitted in the coming weeks and it is estimated the works will create up to 100 jobs during construction and commissioning. In addition, the company expect the expansion to lead to an additional 51 long-term jobs at the facility, bringing the total workforce to over 400.

“The introduction of fill-finish capacity at Shanbally provides for fully integrated manufacturing from bulk to drug product onsite,” BioMarin’s executive vice-president, Robert Baffi said.

“During our seven years of operations at Shanbally, we have seen tremendous growth at the site. This expansion assures that an increasing amount of our commercial products will be manufactured at the site.” Mr Baffi said the company consider Cork to be an integral part of BioMarin’s long-term strategy.

“We have space for expansion at around the facility. There is around another 10 acres of undeveloped space. We are currently thinking about what the possibilities could be. As our pipeline develops, Shanbally is a strategic aspect of our growth plans.” Globally Biomarin employs more than 2,600 people. The company started in California in 1997 and specialises in developing innovative therapies for patients with serious and life-threatening rare and ultra-rare genetic diseases.

These include a form of Batten disease and achondroplasia — a bone growth disorder that causes disproportionate dwarfism.

The company has a portfolio of seven commercialised products and many other products at clinical and pre-clinical stages of development.

Executive director of IDA Ireland, Mary Buckley, said the investment ‘further consolidates Ireland’s position globally as a location of choice for biopharmaceuticals’.

“I am delighted to welcome BioMarin’s latest investment,” she said. “As a global leader in the manufacturing of treatments for rare diseases, the company has quickly gone from strength to strength in Ireland. The Shanbally operation is ideally positioned to accommodate this latest expansion due to the existing skill base and the proven track record of success in Cork over the past seven years.”

Medical technologies developing in Cork

WHILE the production of biopharmaceuticals is long established here, Cork is also home to companies at the cutting edge of other areas, such as medical technology.

The IDA report that more than 4,500 people in Cork are applied in this section of the industry and they see considerable potential for further growth.

One of the largest of the medical tech companies, Depuy Synthes in Ringaskiddy, is making waves globally and was recently named as one of the top nine most advanced factories in the world.

Depuy Synthes is a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson and employs more than 1,000 people in Cork.

Johnson & Johnson is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of medical devices, with annual medical device sales in the tens of billions.

Depuy Synthes is a market leader in hip, knee and shoulder replacements and has been manufacturing in Cork since 1997.

It was recognised earlier this month by the World Economic Forum (WEF) for its use of internet of things (IoT) technology.

The WEF selected nine factories from a survey of over 1,000 manufacturing sites based on a successful track record of implementing cutting-edge technologies.

Announcing the factories it had chosen, WEF said of the Ringaskiddy plant: ‘The factory has used internet of things technology to create digital representations of physical assets, resulting in lower operating costs and a reduction in machine downtime’.

The award is a testament to the decision to invest €53.2 million in a 320,000 square foot state-of-the-art plant expansion three years ago.

Speaking at the time, Willem Appelo, VP, Supply Chain, Johnson & Johnson Global Orthopaedics Group, said: “The decision to expand this site in Ireland was a strategically important investment due to the site’s strong track record of excellence in quality and innovation.”

Carrigtwohill plant’s broad product range 

ABBVIE, the company formed in 2013 following the division of Abbott Laboratories, has one of its three Irish manufacturing facilities in Carrigtwohill.

Globally the company employs approximately 29,000 people, including more than 500 people in Ireland.

AbbVie research and develop products in a number of areas, including virology, neuroscience, immunology and oncology and its products are sold in more than 170 countries.

The Carrigtwohill plant is a ‘bulk tablet’ finish facility which manufactures solid and capsule formulations and staff at the location develop and deliver products ranging from small-scale clinical trial supplies to large commercial manufacturing.

In 2017, AbbVie announced a research partnership with Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) and WuXi NextCODE to undertake a landmark population genomics alliance in Ireland.

The 15-year project aims to sequence the genomes of 45,000 participants to identify novel targets and advance better treatments for a range of serious diseases.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more