Fears in the local media that Amgen is considering pulling out of its planned multi-million dollar investment in Ireland are way off the mark and the Emerald Isle continues to be a venue of choice for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

The rumours arose after Amgen, the world's largest biotechnology company, announced that it will delay, possibly by two years, construction of new drug manufacturing operations in Cork, Ireland. However, spokeswoman Anne McNickle confirmed to PharmaTimes World News that Amgen is merely rescheduling the execution of the project to build new manufacturing capacity in Ireland, based on a global review of its business plans. Under the new schedule, the bulk manufacturing capacity will be operational in late 2012, not 2010 as originally planned, and with licensure expected in late 2013. The fill-and-finish capacity will be operational in late 2013, with licensure scheduled for late 2014.

However, Ms McNickle stressed that that the overall plans remain unchanged, adding that “Amgen still plans to hire the same number of people as previously announced, and we still plan to make the same overall capital investment and build the same amount of manufacturing capacity.” The US company’s commitment to Ireland was echoed by Barry O’Leary, head of the life sciences division at the government’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA), which is responsible for attracting foreign investment to the country. He told PharmaTimes World News that Amgen’s plans still represent “an absolutely massive project.” ‘Rescheduling’ is the key word, given that Amgen announced in January 2006 that it plans to invest more than $1 billion in its Cork plants, and employ 1,100 people, and nothing fundamental has changed.

Mr O’Leary noted that the biotechnology giant has already spent millions of dollars on the Cork site and is continuing to build an impressive infrastructure at the 135-acre site. Seven kilometres of roads are being constructed, which suggests that Amgen is going nowhere anywhere soon.

Fears about drugs companies pulling out of Ireland have been doing the rounds ever since Pfizer announced in February that is closing manufacturing plants in the country. Fears that hundreds of jobs would be lost arose in the press but Mr O’Leary reiterated the point that Pfizer is actually looking to sell two of its plants (at Little Island and Loughbeg in Co Cork) and many observers believe it will not be too tricky to find buyers.

GSK to spend 250 million euros to expand site

Indeed it seems that stories about the demise of biotechnology and pharmaceutical investment in Ireland would appear to be very much exaggerated. Just last week, GlaxoSmithKline announced that it is to invest up to 250 million euros over five years in its production site at Currabinny, Co Cork to manufacture products, including Tykerb (lapatinib), which has just been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for advanced breast cancer, in combination with Roche’s Xeloda (capecitabine).

The investment will create up to 150 new high-level positions, in addition to the 600 staff already working at the facility, and Andrew Witty, president of GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals in Europe said: “We are dedicated to the further study and development of Tykerb in a variety of settings including adjuvant breast cancer as well as in other solid tumour types and I’m delighted that Irish researchers will be assisting us in this regard.”

Mr O’Leary told PharmaTimes World News about the huge list of global drugmakers who have made Ireland a second home for their operations, most notably Wyeth which has invested $1.8 billion at its site in Clondalkin, Dublin, and Eli Lilly, which is putting hundreds of millions of dollars into its biopharmaceuticals site in Kinsale. Merck & Co, Centocor, Servier, Schwarz Pharma, Takeda, Allergan and Genzyme Corp, among many others, are all investing heavily in Ireland, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the IDA, which suggests that stories of an exodus are exaggerated. By Kevin Grogan