Pharmaceutical output in Ireland soared 22% in the first quarter of 2010 over the same period last year, reaching a record high, while production in March was up 15.6% on March 2009’s levels, say new government statistics.

In comparison, this March’s output of computer, electronic and optical products was down 34.7% compared to March 2009, says the data, from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Pharmaceutical industry leaders are upbeat about prospects for the sector, but are calling on the government, its agencies and the research community to provide it with “active support.” The industry in Ireland is well-placed to address the challenges facing global pharma, which include upcoming patent expiries, diminished volume in research pipelines, a rising cost base, increasing competition and stringent regulatory requirements, says Matt Moran, director of PharmaChemical Ireland (PCI), a business association within the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC).

Speaking at the group’s annual general meeting this month, Mr Moran said that PCI has identified a blueprint for the type of operation that will survive into the future. “It is our aim to drive the industry in Ireland towards this ‘factory of the future’ model that combines high-quality, cost-effective manufacturing with process and product development,” he said.

“Leading international countries are grappling with the challenge of stimulating genuine collaborative initiatives between international and indigenous companies and research centres to develop and commercialise new products and services. Ireland’s small size and flexibility is a definite advantage in this regard, as it is an ideal development test bed for the global industry to experiment and scale up new product and services,” said Mr Moran.

And this week, Gerald Farrell, president of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), pointed out that the industry is the largest contributor to corporation tax in Ireland and that pharmaceuticals, with chemicals and medical products, account for more than 50% of the country’s exports.

The international research-based pharmaceutical industry has been a key driver of the Irish economy over the last forty years and it sees, in Ireland, a country which is open for business and responsive to its needs, said Dr Farrell, speaking at the launch of the latest annual Pharmaceutical Healthcare Facts and Figures publication produced by the IPHA, which represents the international research-based pharma industry in Ireland.

However, he added that while in 2008 the Irish industry was producing nine of the world’s top 15 medicines, by the following year this had dropped to just five out of the top 12, as a result of patent expiries and subsequent generic competition.

“In order that the industry can play a full role in Ireland’s economic recovery it is crucial that Ireland maintains its reputation as a country that understands and values innovation and the contribution of the pharmaceutical industry,” said Dr Farrell. Referring to the government’s desire to create an “Innovation Island,” which it believes will be central to Ireland’s economic recovery, he stressed that achieving this goal will depend on efforts to ensure that the industry maintains its competitive rate of corporation tax, improve the existing R&D tax credit “and, most important of all, that Irish patients continue to have timely access to innovative medicines.”