Continuing uncertainty over Brexit has compelled a few companies to expand operations in Ireland, with more contacting the agency that promotes foreign direct investment into the Republic.

Officials of IDA Ireland cited Northern Ireland-based Almac Group, a contract development and manufacturing organization, which since the 2016 Brexit vote authorizing the U.K. to leave the European Union has established a European Campus in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, 40 minutes south of the company’s global headquarters in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, U.K. In April, Almac also announced plans to expand its global analytical services capabilities at its facility in Athlone, Ireland.

Also this year, the pharmaceutical and biotech consultancy Boyds, based in Crewe, U.K., cited Brexit in announcing it had opened an office on the campus of Dublin City University (DCU), within its DCU Invent commercialization and technology transfer facility that works with University researchers and entrepreneurs.

In addition, Wasdell Group, the U.K.’s leading pharmaceutical contract packaging providers, has opened its own €30 million (approximately $34 million) facility in Dundalk.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest, and Brexit isn’t decided yet, so we don’t really know what shape that will be,” said Shay Power, vice president, pharmaceuticals development with IDA’s Life Science Division with responsibility for attracting new investments in the pharmaceutical sector, told GEN. “What we’ve seen is companies that are well organized and are beginning to execute on that contingency plan that they’ve had in place for a period of time.”

“The second-tier companies are probably only starting to really get down and figure out how they’re going to manage in post-Brexit,” Power added. “A lot of companies, particularly smaller companies, have adopted a wait-and-see stance, and are hoping for the best. There is a huge amount of turmoil in the U.K. over Brexit.”

Power and Ivan Houlihan, vice president, life sciences with IDA Ireland, discussed Brexit’s impact on the Irish life sciences industry in an interview during the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) International Convention, held June 3–6 in Philadelphia.

Ireland counts about 120 biopharma companies, and about as many companies in the medtech space that includes diagnostics developers. The Republic has long attracted U.S. and other biopharmas through selling points that include its low corporate tax rate of 12.5%, its availability of suitable locations, including those overseen by IDA Ireland; and its focus on workforce skills and training through its top-tier universities and the country’s National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), which provides a global center of excellence for training and research in bioprocessing.

“A lot of investments”

“We’ve seen a lot of investments in the life sciences in terms of the finished product, in terms of the packaging and the warehousing, and stuff like that,” Houlihan said. “And then we’ve seen other investments that are follow-upon investments from existing clients as well.”

One such example Houlihan cited is WuXi Biologics, which in December 2018 began construction of a €325 million (about $368 million) biopharmaceuticals contract manufacturing facility in Dundalk, within IDA Ireland’s greenfield site in Mullagharlin. More than 400 jobs are anticipated at the facility, which is WuXi Biologics’ first ever manufacturing investment in Europe, and the company’s first investment of that scale anywhere outside of China.

“When complete, WuXi Biologics Ireland will be the world’s largest facility using single-use bioreactor technology,” Brendan McGrath, Ireland site head and vp manufacturing at WuXi Biologics, stated in a company brochure to prospective clients.

The company does not specifically cite Brexit in explaining its thinking behind expanding in Ireland: “Among the reasons for the decision were the availability of a highly educated and talented workforce, the existence of an established cluster of world-leading biopharmaceutical companies, a world-class research base, and the availability of a shovel-ready greenfield site in Dundalk, which will enable the facility to be ready for production during 2021.”

However, WuXi Biologics included as another reason: “Ireland’s exemplary record in working with both national and international regulators—the FDA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) among others.” The EMA in March relocated its offices from London to Amsterdam, as a consequence of the Brexit vote.

Almac’s Dundalk campus is now operational, and includes a processing facility for commercial drug product services, a dedicated EU distribution center for clinical trial material, and a custom built QC laboratory. Since January 2019, the Dundalk facility also has capacity and regulatory approval to support storage of IMPs and clinical trial logistics.

The company won approval from Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) last year to conduct QP batch certification and release for both clinical trial material and commercial drug product directly from the EU. In addition, the site can support the analysis of commercial drug product and provide flexible secondary labeling and packaging solutions for a broad range of finished pack presentations.

“A unique offering”

“The proximity of our U.K. facilities and new EU campus is a unique offering which offers distinct advantage to our clients and, regardless of the outcome of Brexit, our priority is for our dedicated teams to continue to deliver an uninterrupted service to our global client base,” Paul O’Connor, global vp quality, Almac Clinical Services, stated in a May 30 Q&A article posted on Almac’s website.  “Our company’s Brexit solution ensures we are ready for all outcomes, and will ensure our clients’ trials will remain unaffected, even if there are significant changes to the existing regulatory framework and transfer of product between Europe and the U.K.”

In Athlone, Almac said April 15, it will double its existing workforce by adding up to 40 jobs over the next 24 months as a result of its planned global analytical services expansion. The company is building additional laboratory space that is designed to support microbiology and GMP analysis of small and large molecules.

The 40 based in Athlone are part of a 150-person global analytical services operation that includes locations in Craigavon as well as Souderton, PA.

Wasdell Group anticipates creating 300 jobs at its new 70,000-square-foot facility within the IDA Dundalk Science and Technology Park, Mullagharlin. The new facility offers QC import testing, a variety of current and novel packaging technologies, as well as storage and distribution. The Dundalk site also incorporates serialization technology in addition to customer manufacturing solutions.

“We see ourselves as partnering with companies when they’re interested in growing and expanding internationally,” Houlihan said. “When they’re trying to find the right location for, let’s say it’s a manufacturing location, there’s not too many places in the world that can compete against Ireland to provide the kind of overall solution that we can provide.

“Being part of Europe, having the access to the manufacturing skill set, good education, good corporate tax rate, very pro-business environment, if that’s your criteria, you’re going to be down to just a handful of locations globally,” Houlihan added.

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