PHARMACEUTICAL & HEALTHCARE Position Paper: Future-Proofing Ireland’s Pharmaceutical Industry and Delivering for Patients

19/10/2018 Past, present and future of the pharmaceutical sector in Ireland, pictured at a round-table event hosted by Guaranteed Irish today are, from left, Ger Brennan (Chair), Managing Director, MSD Ireland, Martin Shanahan, CEO, IDA Ireland, Brid O Connell, CEO of Guaranteed Irish, Matt Moran, BioPharmaChem Ireland (IBEC), and Todd Manning, Managing Director, AbbVie, and Deputy Vice President, Irish Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association (IPHA). The pivotal role that the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry plays in Ireland’s economy was the focus of a round-table discussion held today by Guaranteed Irish, the not-for-profit business membership organisation championing 500+ homegrown and international businesses in Ireland. The session, which was part of the Guaranteed Irish annual ‘Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Month’, was attended by members of the pharmaceutical industry, IDA Ireland and other key industry stakeholders. The outcomes of today’s event will be developed into a submission paper for Government by Guaranteed Irish and will outline the support required to ensure the pharmaceutical sector remains in robust health in Ireland. PHOTO: Mark Stedman

December 2018


Guaranteed Irish is a not-for-profit business membership organisation representing businesses in Ireland since 1974. We award the Guaranteed Irish symbol to indigenous and multinational companies operating in Ireland that provide quality jobs, support local communities and are committed to Irish provenance. 

October was Guaranteed Irish’s Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Month, an annual initiative designed to highlight the pivotal role that the sector plays in Ireland’s economy, the local communities in which these companies are based, and the health of Irish patients. The biopharma sector directly employs a combined 30,000 people in Ireland across 120 different sites, 90 of which are manufacturing sites. As part of this year’s activities, Guaranteed Irish hosted a roundtable discussion giving an overview of the contribution the sector currently makes to the Irish economy, the challenges it faces and facilitating a debate regarding how Ireland can take steps now to future-proof the sector in the future.

The event was attended by representatives from across the sector and featured a panel of speakers including:

  • Chair – Ger Brennan, Managing Director, MSD Ireland (Human Health) and a member of the Guaranteed Irish Board of Directors
  • Todd Manning, Managing Director, AbbVie, and Deputy Vice President, the Irish Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association (IPHA)
  • Martin Shanahan, CEO, IDA Ireland
  • Matt Moran, BioPharmaChem Ireland (IBEC)

Key finding:

There is a genuine opportunity for industry, government and all relevant state agencies and bodies to collaborate and partner to future-proof the sector, ensure we are ahead of the curve in manufacturing terms to support new breakthrough medicines and technologies and collaborate on how we can ensure Ireland leads the way in terms of offering patients access to new medicines.

Discussion Points:

  • The pharmaceutical sector is key to Ireland’s economy, accounting for €39 billion in exports annually and a capital investment of approximately $10 billion over the past decade. However, there is a lack of awareness generally about the success of this sector which provides an opportunity to build awareness across a broad range of stakeholders.
  • There are a number of key challenges facing the industry including:
    • Access – difficulties with the current reimbursement system for new medicines which has seen Ireland become a “slow access” country, meaning that Irish patients don’t have access to the latest medicines, some of which are being made in sites across Ireland.
    • Talent – there is a “war on talent” in the pharmaceutical sector with stiff competition for graduates. We need to ensure Ireland is future-proofing itself from an educational perspective so that we can continue to provide the highly-skilled workforce needed across the sector.
    • External competition – Ireland needs to ensure it remains competitive in a global context as we face stiff competition from other markets for FDI.
  1. A key sector in Ireland

The pharmaceutical sector is hugely significant in Ireland and plays a pivotal role in our economic health.  Employing over 30,000 people directly, and roughly the same number indirectly, ten of the world’s largest pharma companies are based here and there are approximately 75 pharmaceutical companies located across the country. 

We are the 7th largest exporter of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in the world and the sector is worth €39 billion annually in exports, accounting for 50% of all exports. The last decade has seen approximately $10 billion in capital investment in facilities across every region in Ireland.

However, industry leaders and their representative bodies present at the Guaranteed Irish roundtable discussion 2018 were concerned that there is a lack of awareness of this innovative sector at a government level.


  • Ireland needs to attract companies at an earlier stage in the value chain, when they are carrying out world-class patient-focused clinical research. Holding more clinical trials would allow the State to adopt these new proven medicines in our health service, and speed up patient access to these treatments. This would also improve Ireland’s global images as a hub for international research and the manufacture of newly-developed treatments.
  • This will require increased focus on R&D in Ireland’s FDI policies and promoted to leading global pharmaceutical and healthcare providers.
  1. Access to new medicines

Ireland remains among the slowest countries in western Europe to deliver innovative medicines available to patients. Even therapies produced in Ireland are available to patients in other European countries earlier than they are to Irish patients. There is a tremendous opportunity for Ireland to lead the way in ensuring patients get access to medicines quickly, but this will require greater partnership between industry, Government and key stakeholders in the area.

Industry and Government share a common goal in wanting to speed up access to innovative medicines, therefore both parties need to adopt a collaborative approach and innovative thinking to find ways to deliver this.


  • The appointment of a Chief Innovation Officer with direct responsibility for horizon scanning to identify new and innovative treatments that may become available and work with industry to identify ways to fund such innovation.
  • Consideration of multi-annual funding models to enable pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to accurately project the delivery of new medicines to Irish patients at the same pace as their European counterparts.
  • Identify ways that Ireland can attract greater research and development including a greater number of clinical trials. Greater collaboration between industry and Government to grow and strengthen this sector, position Ireland as a leader in this space and provide valuable access to new medicines for Irish patients.
  1. Availability of highly-skilled talent

The pharmaceutical sector in Ireland is highly competitive and has near-zero unemployment. For the sector to continue to thrive it is imperative that a number of stakeholders – across industry, third level institutions and all statutory bodies – collaborate to ensure the future supply of appropriately skilled graduates who are prepared to support the needs of the industry and continue to progress this sector.

Key obstacles to realising this goal include a lack of residential housing in convenient locations for employees and managers, and one of the highest marginal tax rates in the world, which is limiting the industry’s ability to attract senior talent.


  • The creation of National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) in 2011 is an example of a future-facing approach that should be emulated when looking at this key area. Ireland must emulate the vocational route adopted by countries such as Germany and Switzerland and introduce more apprenticeships to the manufacturing sector, especially as so many roles do not requires PhDs or indeed any third-level qualification.
  • Consultation between industry, Government and IDA Ireland to develop and retain a wider pool of talent and reduce competition between Irish-based biopharmaceutical companies for the same small pool of qualified employees.
  1. Future-proofing the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry in Ireland

It is remarkable that Ireland, as a small island on the edge of Europe, is able to attract such a vast quantity of foreign direct investment. Unlike other sectors dominated by multinationals in this country, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry requires heavy capital investment. Indeed, the industry has ploughed $10 billion (€8.8 billion) into capital investment over the last ten years.

‘Future-proofing’ this vital sector will require not only continued growth in the number of manufacturing jobs, but also further investment in the sector’s research and development activities, which create smaller numbers of higher-value jobs based around the manufacture of more advanced products. Indeed, the FDA has identified the manufacture of advanced products as its second-biggest priority.


  • While the manufacture of advanced therapeutics is a developing area, it is also very costly. Ireland must invest more in this sector if it is to play a leading role in the future of therapeutics.
  • There is also an opportunity for Ireland to take the lead in innovation and the convergence between biopharma and technology, as the industry is witnessing the digitisation of that sector at the moment. Given the scale of the biopharma and technology presence in Ireland, the country is well positioned to take that lead.
  • Guaranteed Irish member companies also see the leveraging of data to enable the development of personalised medicines to patients as a core part of the industry’s future in Ireland. Deploying digital technology to interpret the vast amounts of data collected by the pharmaceutical industry will also result in greater predictability in how the government manages its health spending. This again provides opportunity for a partnership approach involving the pharmaceutical sector, the IT industry, Government and other relevant stakeholders to identify the opportunities presented in this area and identify tangible actions to enable its realisation.


Guaranteed Irish awards its symbol to companies that provide quality jobs and support local communities. The pharmaceutical industry employs 30,000 directly right across Ireland from Sligo to Cork. For a small, open economy, this country has been outperforming others to become one of the leading global hubs for biopharmaceutical manufacturing. However, as outlined there are a number of challenges to the sector that must be addressed.

  • International competition is increasing. Greater support to alleviate the pressure in terms of attracting and retaining talent is required. It will also be necessary to address the growing perception that Ireland welcomes investment but is slow to recognise the cutting-edge medicines these manufacturing sites produce.
  • The multi-annual budget request should include sustained, reasonable annual increases in funding for innovative medicines.
  • The Chief Innovation Officer would be tasked with evaluating a number of different market entry methods appropriate for each individual medicine based upon level of available data, need for local evidence gathering, unmet need and projected demand for existing treatments.
  • The Department of Health should set a KPI for Ireland to be in the top quartile of European countries for speed of access to innovative medicines – collaboration with industry would be toward achieving this goal.

Next Steps:

Guaranteed Irish’s members are calling for greater collaboration between industry and Government to ensure this vital sector is future-proofed and its incredible success story can continue.

The industry, government and relevant agencies have a part to play in ensuring that Ireland cements its position as a global leader in manufacturing and ensure that new technologies are available to the benefit of all Irish patients. The recommendations made by attendees at the Guaranteed Irish roundtable, if implemented, will play a key role in ensuring the continued growth of Ireland’s pharmaceutical sector and the best outcomes for Irish consumers.

Meeting request between key stakeholders:

As a necessary next step towards this more collaborative future, Guaranteed Irish’s industry members request a meeting with a suitable Government delegation to identify and target areas for improvement.

In Attendance:

MSD, Abbvie, Pfizer, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Merck Group, Janssen, Ipsen, Bayer, Manning, Astra Zeneca, Amgen, Ipsen, Boehringer Ingleheim, Bayer, Merck group, IPHA, IBEC, IDA, Matheson, Guaranteed Irish.



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