The Celts Go Biotech

and Wales open their pocketbooks to build biotechnology companies

Ted Agres
Jan 18, 2004

The Celtic Fringe, overshadowed politically and economically for centuries by England, is coming into its own as a biotech and life sciences hotspot. While the lion's share of the region's biotechnology strength is clustered around Oxford, Cambridge, and London, the Celtic Fringe countries -Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and Ireland- have built their own biotechnology boomtowns.

The four countries each boast major universities dating back centuries which served as models for education throughout Europe. More than 900 biotech, pharmaceutical, and life science-related companies employ 61,000 workers. Thousands of additional scientists and postdoctoral fellows work at major research universities and medical schools and institutes.

Most major multinational pharmaceutical companies have manufacturing facilities in the Celtic Fringe (most of them in Ireland) but drug discovery research is sorely lacking. "We need to encourage them to locate some of their R&D activities in Ireland," says Philip Nolan, director of the Conway Institute of...

IRELAND

The Emerald Isle is the second largest manufacturer and exporter of pharmaceuticals in the world, after Germany. Altogether, more than 70 multinational pharmaceutical companies employ nearly 15,000 people in Ireland.

In addition, more than 40 biotechnology companies employ 3,000 people in medical diagnostics, agriculture and food, and biologics. "Ireland has a young, highly educated and highly motivated population," says Philip Nolan, director of the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, a new multidisciplinary center at the University College Dublin. But Ireland needs more than drug manufacturing; it needs a broader pharmaceutical research base as well, Nolan and others say. Some of the major companies are working to develop that, Wyeth, for example, will open a $300 million (US) protein research and development facility and employ 300 scientists as part of its $1 billion manufacturing facility in Dublin. A surge in government research funding since 1999 brought more than €630 million to universities under the country's Program for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI). An additional €140 million will be handed out through 2008.

SCOTLAND

The country's biotechnology community is one of the most vibrant in Europe, with particular strengths in cancer research, clinical research and trials, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. Scotland boasts more than 470 life science companies employing 25,400 workers. Since 1999, the number of companies in the biotech sector has grown by 28% per year. "Scotland has major strengths and is doing things right," says Mark Davison, chief executive of Active Clinical Ltd., a clinical trials support organization in Edinburgh. "It has a very good research base both at major universities and spin-out companies within a relatively defined geographical area." Scottish government funding for science will exceed €270 million in 2003, with more than 70% directed at pure research.

NORTHERN IRELAND

As the country distances itself from years of political unrest, university enrollment is growing, research funding is on the rise, and new biotech companies are being created from the fruit of academic research. "We find there's a lot of people who left Northern Ireland for obvious reasons in the past and have now decided to come back," says Peter McGuckin, bioscience technology executive for Invest region's economic development agency. About 50 biotech and life sciences companies employ 40,000 people. "We have a high density of small business here, and that's what characterizes our economy", says John Cooke, corporate program manager for Invest Northern Island.

WALES

This tiny country is emerging as one of Europe's economic power centers, its economic base having evolved during the past 15 years from the coal and steel industries to modern manufacturing and high technology, with particular strengths in optical electronics and biomedicine. When Cardiff and the University of Wales Medical School merge next August, the combined school will host more than students. Boosted by a €60 million government investment, the new institution is expected to create 3,000 new jobs and spin off new enterprisees.

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