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In this Sector...

In this Sector...

Please give an overview of your sector?

The pharmaceutical and Biopharma industry is undoubtedly Ireland’s most valuable and most stable sector, attracting some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies.

  • Nine of the top 10 Pharmaceutical companies are located in Ireland
  • Five out of the top 12 selling drugs are produced in Ireland
  • Ireland has become the world’s largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals worldwide
  • €58 billion exported in 2014, accounting for over 50% of the total Irish exports
  • Contributing over €1 billion in corporation tax annually
  • Over 3 billion in new capital is currently been invested in Ireland
  • Employs over 55,000 both directly and indirectly
  • Over half of the employees are third level graduates
  • Employing approximately 25% of all PhD researchers currently employed in Irish industry

The dynamics of the industry are changing; Ireland is emerging as a leading location for biopharmaceutical companies due to the mix of start-ups, SME’S and large multinational companies located here. Industry leaders present in Ireland including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Genzyme, Merck, Elan, and Allergan have all recently invested in Ireland. This investment has facilitated rapid growth and development of the Biopharma industry.

Not only does the pharmaceutical sector contribute to the Irish economy, it also contributes to the nation’s health and well being by improving the quality of life and combating illness. The industry has helped improve life expectancy in Ireland by over a third in the last seventy years from 57 in 1925 to 79 today.

What is the size and scope of the sector?

The Irish pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry is quietly and steadily undergoing a strong growth spurt, involving a number of new site builds, as well as a number of significant expansions, and the future looks very bright for a lot of students taking up associated STEM courses in this sector.

The industry provides excellent sustainable career opportunities and currently employs 25,300 people in Ireland, over half of which are third-level graduates compared to the national average of 24 per cent. In addition, 24,500 people are employed providing services to the sector.

Not many people are aware that Ireland’s pharma industry currently generates over 50% of the country's exports. The industry exported products to the value of €58 billion in 2014 and contributes more than €1 billion in corporation tax to the Irish Exchequer annually.

For such a small country, Ireland punches well above its weight when it comes to pharmaceuticals and such a performance is sustaining our position as the largest net exporter of medicines in the world.

At present over 3 billion in new capital is currently been invested in Ireland, Creating over 3000 new jobs, plus the indirect jobs created during construction.

What are the current issues affecting this sector?

Companies have embraced the concepts of manufacturing and supply chain excellence, as well as those of on-site innovation, such as process and product development.

Irish sites have positioned themselves in discovery-related activities. This is possible only through the quality and capability of its people as well as the availability of appropriately trained graduates.

Ireland has a highly creative and very flexible workforce with an excellent ability to innovate and to lead.

In March 2015, the country posted its highest total exports in 13 years at just over €9 billion. Over 60% of this total came from the chemicals and allied products sector, that includes pharmaceuticals biopharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients as well as chemicals - up 58% on 2014. This is clear evidence that the sector is entering a strong phase of a post-patent-cliff recovery, driven by over €3.5 billion worth of capital investment.

The recent expansion announcements by Alexion - €450 million and Mallinckrodt- €45 million both in the biologics space are the latest manifestation of this.

This positive environment presents a huge opportunity for the industry and those who work in it, however, there is seldom opportunity without challenge. The crystallising challenge for the sector is the emerging skills gaps, especially in the biological sector.

What changes are anticipated over the next 5 years

The Irish pharmaceutical and chemical sector was established in 1960 as a result of government policy at the time. Through the Industrial Development Authority (IDA Ireland), multinational pharmaceutical and chemical companies were encouraged to invest here.

Initial investments were primarily in bulk pharmaceuticals, now known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Over the course of the 1970s, investment began to gravitate towards drug product manufacture. The 1990s saw this trend continue, with many established sites reinvesting significantly and expanding into shared-service activities

The Next 5 Years ...

The sector will continue to move up the value chain; it is likely that the type of manufacture taking place in Ireland will continue to increase in relative value terms.

More companies will invest in process and product development in order to anchor their manufacturing plants; this will generate more opportunities for PhD scientists.

The general prognosis for the sector remains very positive in this country and it likely to provide rewarding career options for science graduates for many years to come.

Do you have any statistics relevant to the sector?


  • The Irish pharmaceutical and chemical sector exports products to the value of 58b.
  • Ireland is the largest net exporter of Pharmaceuticals in the World.
  • Nine of the top 10 global companies are based in Ireland.
  • Very stable sector and are global leaders in Quality.
  • Ireland ranks 9th in the world for the level of high-tech exports as a percentage of manufacturing exports.

Education and skills

  • 25,300 people are employed in the Irish pharmachem sector, approx. 50% of which are third-level graduates.
  • 25% of all PhD researchers in Irish industry are employed in the sector.
  • Ireland’s educational system is ranked at 9th in the world for higher education achievement.
  • Ireland ranks 4th globally for the availability of skilled labour and openness to new ideas. 
  • Ireland’s labour market flexibility is ranked 9th in the world.

Not only does the pharmaceutical sector contribute to the Irish economy, it also contributes to the nation’s health and well being by improving the quality of life and combating illness.


  • 5 out of the top 12selling medicines manufactured in Ireland
  • In 1925 the life expectancy in Ireland was 57, today it is 79 and the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke has been halved as a result of medicines produced in Ireland

Today people in Ireland live longer, healthier and more active lives, in part, due to medical progress and pharmaceutical research and development.

Are there any areas in your sector currently experiencing skills shortages?

Shortages are emerging against the backdrop of recent investments and growth. If unaddressed, these could constrain future economic growth in the sector:

  • Chemical & biological scientists and biochemists in areas of pharma co-vigilance (drug safety & clinical trials), analytical development & product formulation
  • Biotechnology technicians; lesser availability of persons willing to work as lab technicians Most graduates at technician level (NFQ 6 / 7) stay in education to progress to higher qualifications; holders of NFQ 8 qualifications & above seek more challenging roles than those available at technician level
  • Production & process engineers - process automation & system control, product design, production planning, supply chain integration engineers (eg biotech, pharmaceutical industry)
  • Chemical engineers - specialised roles in the biotech/pharmaceutical industry
  • Quality assurance & validation engineers - including standards &regulatory compliance, process safety engineers
  • Process operatives in pharmaceutical & medical devices, especially CNC operatives.  Many unemployed operatives trained in traditional operative skills are deficient in the technical and digital competencies required for high tech automated manufacturing.
  • Technical sales/sales reps particularly in medical devices, healthcare and pharmaceuticals

The industry in Ireland is going from strength to strength and ensuring a constant stream of science graduates at secondary, third and post graduate levels is paramount.

Expenditure in R&D is growing 10% year on year, so the continuing take-up of science in schools is critical to sustaining the country’s recent years promoting science and the results are startlingly evident with the increase in the number of students taking science subjects.