BioWorld International Correspondent

DUBLIN, Ireland - IDA Ireland, the industrial development agency responsible for Ireland's foreign direct investment (FDI) strategy, secured a long-coveted investment from one of its key targets.

Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif., unveiled plans Tuesday to develop a $1 billion biologics production facility on a 133-acre site at Carrigtwohill, close to Cork city, the country's main pharmaceutical manufacturing hub. Construction of process development, bulk manufacturing and fill and finish facilities is due to get under way later this year.

Some 1,100 workers will be employed at the campus by 2010, which will be involved in the production of existing products as well as key drug candidates currently in development.

"This is an unprecedented project in its scale," Andy Skibo, vice president of corporate engineering and capital projects at Amgen, told BioWorld International. The company aims to have the fill/finish facility licensed by 2010 and the bulk manufacturing operation licensed shortly afterward. "This plant will double our fill and finish capacity, and on the bulk side will be at least a 50 percent expansion of existing capacity."

IDA Ireland has, over the past 40 years, lured 13 of the world's top 15 pharmaceutical companies to Ireland, with a combination of grants, low corporate tax rates - currently 12.5 percent - and other incentives. More recently, it has targeted biomanufacturing projects and large biotechnology firms, as well. Wyeth, of Madison, N.J., has invested $2 billion in a biopharma campus at GrangeCastle, near Dublin, while Genzyme Corp., of Cambridge, Mass., recently added a biological fill/finish facility to its existing Renagel manufacturing operation in Waterford.

"Grants are part of the equation, but they're only a small part of the equation," Barry O'Leary, divisional manager for IT and biotechnology at IDA Ireland, told BioWorld International. Amgen scored Ireland and other competing locations - including Switzerland and Singapore - against more than 10 parameters, including infrastructure, taxation regime, managerial talent, regulatory environment and work force quality and availability. The latter was probably the single most important element that swung the decision in Ireland's favor.

"They actually sent over a specialist HR team as part of the whole process," O'Leary said.

Some of Ireland's FDI projects have fallen afoul of European Commission (EC) competition authorities in Brussels, however, who have argued that providing large levels of grants to subsidize manufacturing projects undertaken by profitable companies is anti-competitive. Because of the relatively low level of grant aid involved in the Amgen initiative, the project is, O'Leary said, not subject to EC scrutiny. But a proposed €50 million (US$61.4 million) package, which IDA Ireland agreed as part of an €530 million investment in Cork by Centocor Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson., of New Brunswick, N.J., has been stalled, pending a review by EC officials. A decision is due shortly, O'Leary said.

IDA Ireland also is funding several initiatives to bolster Ireland's positioning as a global biotech manufacturing hub. It awarded €72 million to a university consortium led by University College Dublin to construct a National Institute for Bioprocessing Research & Training in order to ensure that incoming companies can have access to a stream of graduates with the right skills and to pilot production and research facilities. It also is developing a series of pre-designed biomanufacturing campuses with advance planning permission and a flexible design that can be adapted to specific operations. Jacobs Engineering Group, of Pasadena, Calif., developed a blueprint for one site, at Oranmore, on the outskirts of Galway city. Two other locations are being finalized. The aim is to shave around one year off the four-to-five-year time frame required to establish biomanufacturing facilities.

Meanwhile, Ireland's indigenous biotechnology industry has been putting out feelers for potential business and partners overseas. The Irish BioIndustry Association (IBA) and a handful of biotechnology firms participated in a trade mission to India last week, led by Ireland's Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern. The IBA signed a memorandum of understanding with its Indian counterpart Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE). The latter is chaired by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, the high-profile managing director of Bangalore-based Biocon Ltd., who is also Ireland's honorary council in India. Any connections between the countries' respective biotechnology industries are at an early stage, however.

"It really depends on how successful a number of the start-ups are here," said IBA director Matt Moran.