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Three Keys to Ireland’s Resilient Pharma Industry


Recent growth in pharma makes Ireland an ideal candidate for expansion opportunities.

Damien O’Brien

Damien O’Brien

The pharma industry has faced great uncertainty in the past two years as it has grappled with a fast-changing pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and an evolving regulatory landscape. But amid all the turmoil, one thing has remained certain: Ireland continues to be a top choice for pharma companies looking to expand their operations.

Ireland experienced a record level of foreign direct investment from the pharma industry in 2021. This happened despite the restrictions on travel and in-person meetings brought about because of the pandemic.

How has Ireland’s pharma industry grown even during these challenging times?

Certainly, it helps that Ireland is a committed member of the EU, giving pharma companies access to both the single market and its talent base. But Ireland also actively fosters an environment that allows industry to thrive. It does this by checking the boxes that are critical for companies today as they consider where to evolve or grow their business, mentioned below.

A stable business environment

Ireland is known for its regulatory stability and pro-business policies that have been maintained across successive governments. The country also has one of the youngest populations in the EU with almost half its population aged 34 and under.

During the pandemic, Ireland kept the pharma industry open and its supply chain flowing by minimizing restrictions on industry workers and operations. And while new waves of COVID-19 infections continue to disrupt businesses around the world, Ireland has been among Europe’s leaders in vaccination rates. Today, more than 80% of people in the country are fully vaccinated.

There’s perhaps no better testament to Ireland’s reputation as a stable, reliable place to do business than the steady stream of large investments that continue to be made in the country. In recent months:

A robust talent pipeline

A top pain point for pharma companies—and a key factor when deciding where to expand globally—is the availability of science and engineering talent. But Ireland gives companies access to a rich talent pool that’s drawn from many sources.

For starters, the country already has a robust established workforce across the many pharma companies that operate in Ireland today. This workforce is experienced in business-critical areas like product development, quality control, and quality assurance.

Ireland also maintains a robust talent pipeline through its education system. Today, one in four higher-education graduates in Ireland come from STEM courses. And not only does Ireland have dozens of undergrad and post-grad technology-related courses, but its universities also develop courses and modules to meet specific industry needs.

Then there are industry-focused efforts like the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), which provides sector-specific training to more than 4,000 people annually.

Pharma companies operating in Ireland also have easy access to international talent. Because Ireland is a member of the EU, companies operating in the country gain access to the bloc’s labor pool, which is more than 240 million strong. The Irish government also removes barriers to getting employment permits and residency for skilled technology professionals who are non-EU residents.

Strong government support

Pharma companies that operate in Ireland have access to several financial supports and incentives.

For instance, the Irish Revenue Commissioners offer a 25% R&D tax credit for companies that undertake new or additional research, development, and innovation activity in Ireland.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) also has an annual budget of about $215 million to fund basic biopharmaceutical research, especially to help understand cancer, autoimmune disease, and Alzheimer’s.

Another support avenue is the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF). It funds disruptive innovations through collaborations between international enterprises with operations in Ireland, Irish enterprises, higher education institutes, and research centers.

A key area of growth in the pharma industry is cell and gene therapy development and manufacturing. The SFI and DTIF have combined to award more than $40 million to support cell and gene therapy projects.

Fertile ground for growth

Ireland’s established environment for pharma activity has set the stage for some of the world’s largest pharma companies to not only establish operations but also grow them considerably over time.

For example, Pfizer made its first investment of about $10 million in Ireland in 1969. Since then, the company’s in-country investment has grown to nearly $8.5 billion, and today, Ireland is home of some of Pfizer’s leading-edge operations, including Pfizer Grangecastle, one of the largest integrated biotechnology plants in the world.

It is growth and activity like this that has helped make Ireland the third-largest exporter of pharmaceuticals globally—and given pharma companies all the evidence they need when eyeing expansion opportunities.

Damien O’Brien is the vice president of life sciences for IDA Ireland, the Irish government’s foreign direct investment agency.

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