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Outlook positive for life sciences post-Brexit

This country has always been attractive to international life science companies and Brexit throws up opportunities for further growth

With Brexit looming and an agreement on how the UK will withdraw from the EU still not agreed upon, we have good reason to be feeling anxious on this side of the Irish sea. With so much at stake, and so many potential losses for us as a nation, looking to the positives may seem hard to do.

But there are positives.

Ireland has always been attractive to international life science companies wishing to set up in the EMEA region. And those who might previously have looked to Britain as a bridgehead to the EU market may consider Ireland post-Brexit.

The announcement during the summer by Chinese biopharmaceutical company WuXi Biologics of its €325 million development of a manufacturing facility in Dundalk is just one example of Ireland’s standing in the life sciences sector. There are many more.


This is not a surprise and there are many reasons for these companies to choose Ireland, according to Colin Kavanagh, partner with law firm Arthur Cox.

“We have seen a surge in life sciences companies relocating their regulatory authorisations to Ireland in order to access the EU markets post-Brexit. Much of this is driven by EU regulatory requirements that necessitate an EU/EEA presence,” he says.

Ireland is also an English-speaking eurozone EU member with well-respected regulators, highly skilled personnel, a compelling global life sciences presence, competitive tax rates and IP incentives.

“We expect the surge in regulatory applications to be followed by the people managing them over the next three to five years,” Kavanagh says.

For any multinational business looking for a foothold to enter or retain access to the wider European market, there is a compelling case to locate in Ireland, Brian Daly, head of Brexit at KPMG Ireland says.

“This includes benefits such as the fact that Ireland offers stable and predictable industrial and fiscal policy, a highly-skilled and diverse workforce, a strong track record for foreign investors, access to an EU market of over 450 million people [post-Brexit], our English language skills and a common law system,” he says.

Dermot O’Neill from Cobotics Skillnet says stability of employment and consistency in the supply of labour all helps maintain the attraction.

He says within many of the med-tech and life science clusters, there is a confidence in those companies to put their hands up and say, “I’ll take that new product, or that new design”.

“They have confidence in the workforce and are confident of their management teams – we can handle any job thrown at us.

“I do some work with Invest NI and they are catching on to the cluster effect, and are trying to promote that but it’s not working for them. There is a very siloed way of thinking – ‘hold on to what we have’ and not share and in Ireland we understand the reciprocal nature of sharing. If I need to call on the favour, then I can. That makes us attractive to multinationals,” he says.

The level of local and national support and opportunity for both emerging and expanding life sciences companies, combined with the ability for industry and academia to collaborate seamlessly, makes Ireland one of the most attractive places in the world for life sciences companies to be based, Tim Cotter, associate director of business consulting at Grant Thornton says.

“This combined with large ICT companies based in Ireland also creates a lot of potential for the future,” he adds.

Pool of talent

The industry is embedded in the economy and although the current tax environment presents a significant advantage to organisations, other reasons persuade companies to remain or come to Ireland, he says, including the pool of talent and skills available.

“Life sciences companies are also bound by an extensive amount of regulatory policies and procedures and international life sciences authorities and European and national agencies value the Irish compliance highly in terms of regulatory compliance,” Cotter says.

Ireland also has the opportunity to become a centre for international dispute resolution post-Brexit, particularly for pharma and medtech matters.

“Litigation and commercial court cases in this sector that would previously have been undertaken in the UK may now seek an EU base. As the principal common law jurisdiction left in the EU post-Brexit, Ireland is well-placed to benefit from this and clients in this sector are considering their jurisdiction clauses,” Joanelle O’Cleirigh, partner, Arthur Cox says.

“Even with all the many aspects that make Ireland particularly attractive post-Brexit, the Government and IDA needs to work even harder to continue to ensure Ireland’s attractiveness for FDI projects, as the UK will have flexibility to compete for FDI more aggressively,” Colin Kavanagh warns.

Three multinationals speak favourably of Ireland as a base for their life science companies.

“Choosing Ireland as a location included many considerations, but an important one is a talented workforce with an experience in medical technology.” – Joe Nuzzolese, corporate VP, global supply chain, at Edward Lifesciences.

“BD’s decision to open our global research centre here in Limerick is based on the region’s highly skilled talent, our strong relationship with local universities, and Limerick’s stellar reputation as an important life sciences hub.” – Dennis Gilbert, senior VP for R&D at BD.

"With the extension of the Waterford site, we are not only building on that legacy, but also investing for our future. The enhancements to the site will enable us to meet increasing global customer demand for the Bausch & Lomb Biotrue ONEday contact lens brand, which was developed by our R&D team here in Waterford." – Joseph C Papa, chairman and chief executive of the instruments division at Valeant Pharmaceuticals.