The strong flow of FDI into Ireland has led to a vibrant ecosystem of Irish service providers, who have grown up servicing the needs of pharma MNCs. Working for FDI clients has put Irish companies to the test and pushed them to work to the highest standards.
“Top global pharma companies – or any company, for that matter – will not buy from you if you are not the best.”
CEO Philip Martin, who set up Cora Systems, a project management organization software company, concurs: “the presence of these MNCs in Ireland means that we are used to operating at the highest standards of quality. Top global pharma companies – or any company, for that matter – will not buy from you if you are not the best. Facing this intensely competitive playing field has driven us to constantly innovate in order to stay on top, which now puts us in a good position to compete globally.”
Competing globally means staying on top of the dizzying array of changes the pharma manufacturing industry constantly undergoes and offering the best products. For Collen Construction’s CEO Tommy Drumm, this means he must stay up to date on the different innovations different companies are pursuing.
For instance, “[a company might be] a significant player in single-use disposable technology. Then there is increasing emphasis on modularization and increasing the level of pre-fabrication as much as possible, which we encourage through BIM and having skids on-site. Other companies [might use] enormous 15,000-litre bioreactors … We are conscious that our clients will have different needs so we maintain the flexibility and expertise to tailor our solutions to their requirements.”
For more niche players, innovation is even more critical. As the industry model transitions from the blockbuster drugs of yesteryear with massive production volumes to ‘nichebuster’ drugs manufactured for smaller patient populations, pharma companies increasingly seek more flexibility in their manufacturing facilities to maximize operational efficiency. Ronan Quinn, CEO of Ardmac, a specialist clean-room provider to the life sciences industry, has responded by bringing in second-generation cleanroom products to the market.
He describes, “the first-generation products would tend to be solid, monoblock wall or ceiling panels, [adapted] from ‘cold room-type’ manufacturing processes to suit GMP requirements [which are] fairly limited in terms of their adaptability for future needs and capacity for the integration of mechanical and process services.” On the other hand, “the second-generation products we are bringing are very adaptable and based on interchangeable components that make remodelling very easy.” He concludes gleefully, “it is like a Lego concept – a multi-use design focus with process flexibility!”
Increasingly, however, as Irish companies develop their capabilities, the most valuable asset they can offer is their expertise instead of their products per se, and many service providers increasingly tout their problem-solving capabilities instead of pushing product. Martin from Cora Systems opines, “Senior management teams are paid to take decisions.
Without the right information, they will make either lucky or poor decisions. With the right information, their profitability could increase by 40 to 50 percent – and that is what Cora Systems provides. We do not sell our products immediately when we approach companies. On the contrary, the first thing we ask is that they do a Discovery Workshop – free of charge – with us so that we can better understand their needs”.
This applies across the value chain. David Anchell founded Camida, a bespoke chemicals sourcing company, after a decade with BASF, because he found that “the industry was saturated by companies trying to push their products or services instead of being interested in solving the problems that the pharma companies were facing.” Camida’s core business is to meet clients’ needs for sourcing products for pharmaceutical manufacture.
He provides an example of the sometimes unorthodox requests he receives: “we had a company ask us to compile a library of around 1500 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for their records … We came up with a bespoke contract and then fulfilled the order in six months.” He concludes, “the value that we provide is in listening carefully to the industry and doing our best to serve its needs – and we never charge for the information stream and expertise we provide around the supply of products”.
In the same vein, service providers are increasingly being asked to act as full partners to their clients instead of a contractor providing specific services with limited responsibilities. As O’Gildea from Mercury Engineering says, “it is critical that we now act as full partners to our clients rather than contractors. Clients are looking for innovation from their contractors, not just the standard operating practices that have not changed in the past 20 years. For instance, we have developed a purpose-built modularization facility in Newbridge, with a factory and cleanroom for constructing modules.”
Dave Murphy, CEO of PM Group, the largest Irish EPC consultancy, stresses that this is a win-win for both client and contractor. “Companies going down the long-term partnership route get much better results. It does not mean that they are overspending; it just enables service providers to engage more positively with their business and their long-term objectives, which are often very specific to their operations. The industry needs to be more collaborative with their delivery partners to enable them to provide the best solutions.”
Having whet their appetite on the domestic market, Irish companies have expanded internationally like their forefathers, enterprisingly on the backs of their key MNC clients within Ireland. The life sciences industry lands itself very well to this, as Murphy from PM Group reasons: “the pharmaceutical business is very internationalized now, and it is ultimately quite a small community. 60 percent of our business comes from 10 or 15 clients, which means we deal a lot with the global capital project teams, who seem to pop up in many of the countries we work in.”
Another Irish company, Enterprise Systems Partners, agrees – having conquered the Irish market, it is time to venture into international waters. Dermot O’Callaghan, cofounder and Head of Business Development, says, “I would say 90 percent of the external provision of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) services within Ireland comes from ESP. The next market for us in the US and the rest of Europe.
Like many Irish service providers, we have moved abroad with our Irish clients. We broke into the US market based on the credibility we built with big pharma companies on their projects in Ireland. In the same vein, our first project in mainland Europe was with Genzyme; as we had set up their very first MES system in Ireland, it meant that we influenced how they set up their MES standards within the entire organization.”
Donal O’Callaghan, CEO of Callaghan Engineering, sums up: “Within Europe, there is clear recognition that Ireland has a strong life sciences ecosystem. This translates into the European market: when these pharma companies need partners across Europe, they approach their Irish partners first.”
Internationalization does come with its own set of challenges, however. As Murphy from PM Group cautions, “every location has its own local quirks and culture, so it is clear that you cannot just impose an “Irish-type” culture. When you start out, you need to have expats to start the operations, but then you have to make the effort to employ locally. We have been very successful on this front. Our Shanghai office has about a hundred people but only three expats at this stage; most of the management is local Chinese. The culture there is still very strong, as a result of great direction and leadership from the people we seeded the operation with.”
Writer: Karen Xi