While the identity of the buyer had not been established, the rumour mill has been grinding out a number of names, including those of some large contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs).
The facility was earmarked for sale under Pfizer's company-wide restructuring plans that were announced in 2007. Prior to the collapse of the deal Pfizer had said that the Little Island plant and its sister site in Loughbeg, which has a staff of 300, will close if they are not been successfully divested by the end of 2009.
Pfizer spokeswoman Tara Delany said in an interview that: "Over the past year we have actively pursued potential buyers for our facility in Little Island Cork, heavily marketing the site in difficult market conditions. Such activities include site visits by interested companies and entering the due diligence process with a particular firm."
Delany could not divulge either the name of the firm that had dropped out of the deal or any of the specific motivations for its decision for reasons of confidentiality, but was able to say that the interested party had decided not to proceed further, on the basis "that the facility does not meet the requirements of its future business plans."
"The Little Island facility manufactures active pharmaceutical ingredient for a number of Pfizer medicines - anthracyclines for cancer treatment, Estracyt [estamustine phosphate] for prostrate cancer, the active ingredient for Xalatan [latanoprost] and Nicorette products are manufactured on a contractual basis for Johnson & Johnson," she added.
Delany went on to say that: "The news is very disappointing as we were hopeful we could reach a positive conclusion. However, we remain very open to exploring all future expressions of interest in the facility in full. At this point none of the other interested companies who attended site visits have expressed an interest in pursuing acquisition. We now need a number of weeks to assess the situation."
Ireland's SSPC to boost drug R&D
On a more positive note, a new research project looks to set to boost Ireland's multi-billion-euro pharmaceutical sector. A report in the Irish Independent revealed that the new Limerick Solid State Pharmaceutical Cluster (SSPC) will provide an environment for PhD level research that is beneficial to the drug industry.
Speaking at the launch, Kieran Hodnett, Dean of the faculty of science and engineering at the University of Limerick, said: "The Solid State Pharmaceutical Cluster offers the potential to train to PhD level and beyond, a significant number of researchers in the domain of pharmaceutical solids."
Professor Hodnett added that: "The training will come from the best academic and industrial laboratories in this country and overseas and will provide an exciting mixture of academic and industrial experience as a preparation for a career in this industry. It will address the severe and growing shortage of PhD graduates in physical chemistry, chemical and mechanical engineering and pharmaceutics."
Prof Hodnett also said that the shortage of skilled graduates that has emerged in recent years may begin to adversely affect the competitiveness of the country's drug industry which, according to figures from the Irish government, accounted for nearly 45 per cent of the nation's exports in 2004, directly employing around 24,000 people.