Luck of the Irish brings new biologics base

By Anna Lewcock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pfizer

Proposals for the construction of a new small-scale biologics
manufacturing plant in Ireland courtesy of pharma heavyweight
Pfizer emerged late last week.

The company is considering investing in a site in Shanbally, County Cork, right next to its existing active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) plant in Ringaskiddy, at an estimated cost of €175m. While the plans are still at a very early stage, with the company having only just applied for planning permission at the site, it will come as welcome news to the area which only three months ago was dealt a blow when Pfizer announced it would be cutting jobs and capacity at the Ringaskiddy API plant. The new facility is due to be used for Phase III clinical trial products and initial product launches, and will follow the trend of many biologics manufacturers by using disposable technologies to ensure maximum flexibility in production. Although the plans have yet to officially receive the seal of approval and proposals are technically still pending, the move would fit nicely with Pfizer's recent attempts to expand its presence in the growing biologics market. The fact that the company has also pushed ahead with attempts to gain planning permission before the plant proposal has even been approved internally is perhaps somewhat telling, illustrating the urgency and importance the firm now lays on the role biologics could have in its future. The company currently has many biologic products in its pipeline, including over a dozen in Phase II and III for a variety of indications, that could conceivably be destined for the Shanbally facility. Although unable to comment on detailed plans for the new facility or Pfizer's biologics plans, a spokesperson for the company did tell that potential biologic treatments produced by the firm "would be in the oncology and chronic pain therapy areas".​ Although the company has recently been reshuffling its operations in a bid to cut costs and improve productivity - at the expense of the firm's API facilities which have borne the brunt of the cuts - biologics is an area where Pfizer seems much less reluctant to splash the cash. With the recent blows caused by the failure of the company's anticipated blockbuster cholesterol drug torcetrapib and the much hyped inhalable insulin product Exubera falling significantly short of expectations, the company could definitely do with a little Irish luck to improve their fortunes. The company's current plans to help achieve this recovery include "expanding aggressively in biologics"​, according to its last annual report, and the proposed expansion in Ireland would indeed compliment recent activities and acquisitions in this area, including the 2006 purchase of biotech firm Rinat. "We intend to increase resources dedicated to biotherapeutics,"​ states the firm's annual report, "with the objective of launching one product per year within 10 years.""In addition, we will enhance our capability to identify the right targets and pathways by harnessing new biologic techniques to allow identification and prosecution of the most relevant pathways. We will fund these new investments with savings from reduced spending on support staff and facilities costs." ​ Ireland, although having experienced a real rollercoaster of pharma cuts one moment and investments the next, is slowly establishing itself as something of a biotech base. Recent activities on the green isle include Gilead Sciences' plans to invest in a €60m biopharma plant in Dublin, a €24m investment by Wyeth Biotech in Dublin, and US firm Amgen also has plans to construct a €0.75bn biotech manufacturing plant in Cork. Local media have today also run reports of a number of US and Canada-based pharmaceutical companies visiting a site in Galway to evaluate the possibility of a €500m biopharmaceutical plant in the area, which would further strengthen the region's foothold in the biopharmaceutical arena.

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