The feelgood factor is back in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, after the recent announcement that the Suir Pharma plant is set to re-open, thanks to a major investment by IQ Pharmatek.
With immediate plans to employ 100 people, and another 100 positions in the pipeline later this year, the plant will be manufacturing again as early as March.
The company’s Clonmel site will be operated under the new name AlbyPharma, featuring a distinctive logo inspired by the ancient Celtic Triskele.
It’s an acknowledgement of the warmth received from the local community, an affectionate nod to local heritage — but also serves to symbolise forward motion — a core value of the company.
“Innovation is critical for this business,” says IQ Pharmatek’s managing director and CEO Dr Azzam Hussein.
“For the past 40 years here, they were only doing contract manufacturing, they never had any products of their own for a potential niche market.
“So sometime after June or July this year, we’re going to introduce machinery and equipment to produce a new product of our own.”
Along with technology transfer support and bulk product sales to third-party customers, the company plans to expand its operation in year two to include a new injectables business.
Year three should see the company introducing new products for its UK and US-based customers, with plans to produce a modified drug-delivery platform technology the following year.
By 2020, IQ Pharmatek is hoping to begin work on its own biosimilar line of pharmaceuticals — “a huge leap for the company’s future”, says Dr Hussein.
“Biosimilar” describes generic versions of drugs where the active ingredient is made only by an engineered organism, and as such are harder to reproduce.
Dr Hussein says: “The potential of biosimilars is tremendously high and carries a very high risk — it requires a lot of careful planning as well as expertise from other countries and regions.
“The company intends to be one of the best contract manufacturing companies in Ireland by 2022.”
The pharma and biotech sectors have been real success stories for the Irish economy in recent years — but Dr Hussein is adamant that the country has the potential to go much further: “Ireland is still a ‘virgin country’ within EU — its business potential has not been tapped fully.
“There is so much scope for growth in biotechnology sector in Ireland.”
Our highly-skilled workforce, tailor-made university courses, location and eco-political stability are all factors he credits for Ireland’s success — but Dr Hussein says that more Government investment is needed if the sector to reach its true potential. “If you look at a typical example, like in the US and Canada, the governments have pulled total support to those innovation labs,” he says.
“In areas where it succeeds, the government goes step by step with them.
“Enterprise Ireland does this, but we want to encourage them to do it much more.”
Despite uncertainty in other sectors, Dr Hussein is convinced that his industry is effectively Brexit-proof.
“The pharma business will not be impacted at all,” he confidently asserts.
“When you develop something internally within Ireland, whether you transfer it to Clonmel, the UK, or China, it’s the same process, the same regulations, the same requirements.
“Brexit will not impact us — in fact, maybe it could increase the possibility of more research in Ireland!”
Right now, his focus is on getting operations up and running in Clonmel, where the company has been welcomed with open arms.
“We have received CVs from all over Ireland,” he says, including many from past employees of the plant.
“Whoever’s CV matches the requirements, we’ll take them. There is huge, huge potential for all of these employees.”