The patent cliff and portfolio changes at Bristol-Myers Squibb led to the recent decision to shut its API facility in Cruiserath, County Dublin, becoming the latest Big Pharma to reduce operations in a country which manufactured seven of the top ten blockbusters thirty years ago.
In the last two years, Merck & Co. has announced that plants in County Wicklow and County Dublin will be closed, whilst Pfizer has put up for sale its Lipitor site in Cork and divested three other sites, with over 1,000 jobs being affected.
However, head of life sciences at IDA Ireland, Barry Heavey, told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that drugmakers are still investing in small molecules in the country and the closures are part of “a rebalancing of manufacturing assets” to manage “the lack of ‘mega blockbuster’ primary care small molecule drugs making it through the pipeline and the growth in speciality pharma and nichebuster small molecules in areas such as oncology.”
“We do see continued need for small molecule manufacturing and a role for Irish facilities in that space,” he continued, adding that while “it is unlikely that lots of new greenfield small Molecule manufacturing facilities will be needed, [the IDA is] optimistic that Irish manufacturing sites will continue to evolve and be repurposed.”
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“While biotech investments in Ireland are certainly catching the eye, we still see low key but significant investment in small molecule drug substance and drug product manufacturing,” he told us.
One example he cited was Pfizer’s $30m (€22m) investment last year in its Ringaskiddy, Cork site (which makes, amongst other drugs Viagra), overshadowed at the time by a larger investment of $100m at Pfizer’s Grange Castle, Dublin plant.
The Ringaskiddy investment was “small but very significant,” Heavey said, with Pfizer repurposing the facility “for greater flexibility and to handle more challenging, high potency chemistry. This positions the site very well to handle the growing trend towards high potency compounds for stratified patient populations, so called niche busters.”
Whilst pharma focuses much of its oncology development on biologics, small molecule drugs still occupy a large portion of the oncology pipeline and the IDA is “keen to see these new drugs developed, launched and commercialised from Ireland.”
Oncology aside, Ireland has also seen high level investments in the last few years from generics firm Mylan ($100m to 2016) and just last month Jazz Pharmaceuticals pledged $45-50m dollars for a new manufacturing plant in County Roscommon.
Irish Support & Employment
Furthermore, the IDA is supporting small molecule investments with its sister agency, Science Foundation Ireland, investing $55m in a research consortium between several universities and industry to support process research in synthetic chemistry, crystallisation and formulation.
“A key factor in companies making these types of investments is the fact that they value the talented, experienced, flexible Irish workforce who can be relied upon for the launch and commercialisation of these key small molecule assets,” Heavey said.
One further factor evident to Ireland’s pharma industry strength is employment figures. Though numbers are not broken down by sector, total employment at the end of last year was 25,180, up 5% on the year prior, and, according to the agency, significantly higher than the 1985 of just 4,500.