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Developing a life sciences innovation cluster in Ireland

Innovation lies at the heart of the life sciences industry, fuelling the discovery of new technologies and therapies to treat, diagnose and manage human disease. This is the cycle that supports a highly significant and strategically important industry in Ireland.

Ireland has a rich life sciences heritage as one of the leading global hubs for the development, manufacturing, and supply of medicines and devices. This is evidenced by the fact Ireland is host to 19 of the top 20 global pharma companies and 14 of the world’s top 15 medical device companies, with a global reputation in high-end manufacturing.

Overall, there are an estimated 700 companies in biopharma, medtech and digital health industries operating in Ireland. These businesses collectively employ 84,000 people directly, and act as major drivers of economic growth, exporting an estimated €105 billion annually.

It can be tempting to think Ireland’s strength in life sciences is immutable, however as highlighted by the recent joint Budget 2023 submission by Ibec’s BioPharmaChem Ireland and Irish Medtech Association, there are risks to Ireland’s current life sciences success.

They advocate the need to develop a cluster-focused approach to industrial policy. They highlight that the risk of not taking this approach is the slow erosion of our competitiveness and ability to attract FDI.


Specifically, they highlight supportive environments that prove to be successful, include a mix of established businesses, serial entrepreneurs who share their expertise and reinvest resources, and an accessible information rich environment. Other key players are investors, large firms, and service providers.

Components for a successful life sciences innovation cluster

This is an approach championed by Pioneer Group, a leading owner and operator of life sciences ecosystems, with a mission to create environments where life science companies are more likely to be successful.

Pioneer believes there are five core components required to build a successful life sciences innovation cluster:

1. Density of world-leading universities and research institutes

2. Access to a strong talent pool

3. Proximity to industry

4. Access to dedicated infrastructure

5. Access to sufficient early-stage capital

Ireland has inherent strengths in three of the five components that provide fertile ground for creating a sustainable life sciences cluster. Proximity to industry has already been highlighted above, however similar advantages exist in research and talent.

Ireland has a strong research and innovation ecosystem, ranking the 11th strongest innovator on the European Innovation Scoreboard, and 19th overall on the Global Innovation Index. Additionally, Ireland is 12th in the Global Scientific Ranking, which is reflected in its performance as a world leader in science ranking 2nd for immunology, 3rd for pharmacology, and 4th for neuroscience.

Similarly, Ireland has a strong talent base with one of the largest shares in the world of third-level education within the population: 47 per cent of 25-64-year-olds have third level degrees and 85 per cent of educated adults are employed and enjoying greater earnings according to the OECD.

Gaps in the ecosystem

However, there are significant gaps in the Irish ecosystem around dedicated infrastructure to support life sciences innovation. This innovation is increasingly driven by start-ups translating lab-based research and medical device prototypes into real world applications. These start-ups typically require a supportive business environment, skilled staff, and flexible laboratory and office space to increase their likelihood of success.

Additionally, there remains a critical gap in access to seed and venture capital for early-stage Irish life science opportunities. This capital is often associated with accelerator programmes that provide commercial de-risking and access to investors capable of cultivating start-up activity. Such a dedicated life sciences accelerator programme has remained elusive in Ireland, stifling the opportunity to build a critical mass of life sciences start-ups that can be of interest to international capital.

Pioneer Group, in partnership with Spear Street Capital is committed to addressing these gaps in infrastructure and capital by establishing a 30,000sq ft bioincubation facility now open at The Campus, Cherrywood in Dublin. This bespoke facility is financed by Spear Street and operated by Pioneer Group, providing wet and dry labs, flexible offices, and collaboration space for life sciences entrepreneurs. Founders and start-up companies will be able to use the facility to explore their ideas, test them, access mentorship and business support, as well as collaborate with industry veterans to grow their business.

Supporting company creation and development

In addition, Pioneer Group is running an annual venture building programme to support company creation and generate a national pipeline of companies to catalyse cluster development. Each year, opportunities are identified through extensive academic, clinical and industry networks. Scientific and commercial viability is assessed through the accelerator programme and the most promising ventures will become attractive investment opportunities.

The programme is augmented by an Expert Network to support company development. The network comprises senior pharma and biotech industry figures, experienced life science entrepreneurs, dedicated life sciences investors and other, key industry professionals. Additionally, Pioneer Group leverages international corporate partnerships with organisations such as AbbVie, Astellas, AstraZeneca and Walgreens Boots Alliance to provide further insights to companies and possible partnering opportunities.

The combination of lab space and venture building can play a pivotal role in filling the gaps in infrastructure and capital needed to establish a sustainable life sciences ecosystem. This platform, coupled with the presence of leading life sciences companies already on The Campus, Cherrywood such as APC, VLE Therapeutics, Genuity Science, Abbott, and Zoetis has the potential to develop a cluster that can further burnish Ireland’s status as a global leader in life sciences innovation.

Cluster strategies are becoming common place in countries known for health technology, life sciences, and innovation. Regions such as France, Israel and the United Kingdom have recognised the opportunity to develop a national cluster strategy for future competitive advantage. The Campus, Cherrywood is an opportunity for Ireland to establish a similar strategy and propagate the Irish advantage on a global level.

For more information on the bioincubation space at The Campus, Cherrywood, click here.