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Mapping the Bio-Island. A North-South study of the private biotechnology sector Republic of Ireland. Working Paper


This report quantifies the numbers, the scale and a selection of other characteristics for the private biotechnology sector companies on the island of Ireland. It also examines their current collaborative contacts and their interest in developing greater collaborative linkages. The study involved the identification of the stock of ‘modern biotechnology’ companies on the island, i.e. those companies who predominately employ the tools of modern biotechnology to provide products and services. The definition of modern biotechnology employed was the application of molecular biology, cell or tissue culture or recombinant DNA techniques to organisms, cells or parts thereof in the manufacture of a product or as a component of a service provision.

A survey of company executives was conducted regarding their views on commercial activities, staff, R&D performance and their attitudes towards collaboration.

The sector, as defined, is composed of a total of 59 companies employing 4090 people. Of these companies 41 are indigenous and 18 are multinational. The companies are highly diverse in size and activity. Furthermore, of the 59 companies 26 are micro-enterprises, that is, with less than 10 staff, while only 17 have more than 50 staff. Within individual companies staff numbers range from 1 to 800, with almost all of the larger companies classified as being in the healthcare area, namely either in the manufacture of diagnostics or pharmaceuticals.

Those defined as biotechnology companies are involved in a diverse range of sectoral activities. The pharmaceutical-biologics sector is the major employer with a total of 2033 staff in 16 companies, half of which are indigenous; the diagnostics sector is almost as large with a total of 1657 staff in 21 companies (16 of these are indigenous). The major employers are the 8 multinational pharmaceutical-biologics companies, which account for almost half of the total of 4090 in employment.

On average the indigenous companies are predominantly of recent origin (average age of less than 5 years), are smaller (with average staffing of 29) and are usually based around the larger towns or cities with universities. Multinational companies are older (average age of around 19 years), larger employers (with average staffing of 162) and conduct modest R&D programmes (around 8% of the staff involved). They are located in the Republic of Ireland mainly as a result of the incentives (tax benefits, grants, etc.) offered by development agencies.

From the study there is clear evidence of an increasing rate of formation of new indigenous biotechnology companies, with a high level of research activity (average of 26% of staff involved, particularly in the pharmaceutical-biologics sector). Of the 59 companies, 25 originated as spin-offs from university research, while several others are significantly dependent on technologies licensed from universities.

The activities of biotechnology sector companies with regard to collaboration were also surveyed. It was ascertained that many companies have collaborations within the island, but only 5 have cross-border collaborations. The major areas for collaboration were in R&D and technology development. While awareness of networking events was high, many companies felt that the format of these events did not provide an effective mechanism to meet potential partners.

The study had two related objectives:

  • to identify the stock, scale and locations of biotechnology companies on the island
  • to explore opportunities to build biotechnology communities/collaborations between
    companies and make the island a ‘smart place’ to locate

From the study it is quite clear that there is a strong aspiration to grow more biotechnology companies on the island. The current activities of the governments, universities and even the industry show a zealous desire to establish a stronger platform for research and development. This should lead to a more distinct culture of collaboration amongst the aforementioned institutions and help to permanently establish a biotechnology sector in the island. It can be expected that InterTradeIreland, working with others, can play a major role in helping to accomplish these ambitions. This can be done in line with InterTradeIreland’s mission by assisting to build up the networks which will facilitate and encourage a cross-border exchange of ideas, technology transfer and the formation of alliances.