€40m Irish Govt-industry investment in UL pharma centre to put Ireland on global innovation map

1 Jul 2013

Dr Mary Shire, vice-president of research, UL; Minister Michael Noonan, TD; Prof Don Barry, president, UL; and Minister Jan O'Sullivan, TD

The Synthesis & Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre at the University of Limerick (UL) is to receive a combined investment worth €40m from the Irish Government and 17 industry players, the Irish Government has just revealed. The funding aims to help Ireland become a global hub for pharmaceutical innovation and advanced manufacturing. The investment will also help sustain 90 researcher jobs over the next six years.

The Government will invest €30m in the centre, while the 17 industry players involved in the centre will contribute an additional €10m. These companies include international pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Eli Lilly, and Merck, as well as Eirgen Pharma, Innopharma Labs, Glantreo, and Amebis.

This is the second such Government-industry funding announcement in as little as two weeks. Two weeks ago, the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC) in Cork received a welcome boost when the Government announced it was pumping €36m into the centre, with industry players such as Kerry Group and Wyeth Nutrition investing an additional €14m in the APC.

As for today’s announcement, the Graduate Entry Medical School at UL is the setting for news of the €40m investment in the Synthesis & Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre (SSPC).

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, TD, the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, TD, and the Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock, TD, revealed details of the combined investment in the SSPC.

Global hub for pharma innovation and advanced manufacturing

According to the Government, the €40m research investment will help put Ireland in the international spotlight as a hub for pharmaceutical process innovation and advanced manufacturing. Already Ireland is ranked second in the world for probiotics research. Some of the largest multinational players in the pharmaceutical and med-tech sector have also set up bases in Ireland, creating so-called innovation and pharma clusters in places such as Limerick and Galway.

Speaking this morning, Sherlock said the commitment to fund the SSPC directly supports one of the key areas of growth the Government is focusing on as part of the National Research Prioritisation plan. This is namely ‘therapeutics’ – synthesis formulation, processing and drug delivery, Sherlock said.

With regard to jobs, the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland already supports more than 60,000 jobs and exports more than €50bn in products and services annually.

Spawning jobs?

Bruton added that the combined €40m commitment would also help further promote Ireland as a location for foreign direct investment (FDI). He said the aim would also be to create new jobs, especially in the areas of R&D and advanced manufacturing.

In terms of the SSPC at UL, earlier this year it gleaned an investment from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) as part of the agency’s €300m investment in seven research centres around Ireland.

The SSPC itself already involves a collaboration between 17 companies and academic institutions. A key theme of the research being undertaken by the researchers at the UL centre is to focus on process efficiencies and ‘greener’ chemistry. The goal of the research is to have a positive impact on the environment by reducing, and in some cases eliminating, the use of environmentally hazardous materials.

Sherlock added that the “excellent” impact of the SSPC’s research can be clearly seen through the direct involvement of such significant industry partners.

“Through the SSPC they are demonstrating their respective commitment to Ireland – and an obvious recognition of the talent pool that we have available here,” he said.

The team effect

Sherlock also highlighted the fact that educational institutions such as Athlone IT, Waterford IT, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, University College Dublin and NUI Galway are all collaborating with UL to ensure the centre is a success story for pharmaceutical research.

SFI’s head, Prof Mark Ferguson, this morning described the SSPC is a world leader in the area of pharmaceutical research.

“I am both confident of its continued success and excited about the possibilities for this centre of research excellence,” he said. “I anticipate that SSPC will expand and further leverage this initial investment through successful applications to the EU and through further relationships with industry partners both in Ireland and internationally.”

Ireland is currently home to eight out of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies and six of the top 10 blockbuster drugs are manufactured in the country, according to SFI.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic