Life science sector is thriving in Northern Ireland

The growing importance of Northern Ireland’s pharmaceutical and life sciences industries is revealed today [Tuesday 20 October 2020] in a new report tracking the significant contribution the sector makes to the NI economy.

Research by the Fraser of Allander Institute reveals that the life science sector is thriving, supporting 18,000 full-time jobs throughout NI.

The sector has seen a boom in recent years with employment in both pharmaceuticals and medicines manufacturing increasing by 6% since the last tally in 2015, and wider life sciences employment increasing by 12% in the same period.

The report’s authors point to global advances in biomedical research originating in Northern Ireland, including developments in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cystic fibrosis as recent successes of the sector.

Life sciences activity generates an annual GVA – the value of goods and services produced by a sector – for Northern Ireland of over £1.1 billion. This is driven primarily by the pharmaceutical industry which employs 13,900 people and generates a GVA of £910 million.

To put this into perspective, the scale of Ireland’s pharmaceuticals sector is now approaching that of Scotland, whose pharmaceutical industry employs just over 17,000 people and generates a GVA of £1.7 billion.

The new data also show that for every 100 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees working in the wider life sciences industry, an additional 260 jobs are supported elsewhere in Northern Ireland’s economy.

Life sciences is now the joint second-biggest spender on R&D in Northern Ireland alongside the machine industry, investing £74 million in 2018 according to the latest NISRA data.

Life sciences includes all pharmaceutical industry, medicines manufacturing and healthcare activity across Northern Ireland.

Colette Goldrick, Director of ABPI Northern Ireland, who commissioned the report, said:

Science will help us beat this pandemic and good-quality jobs will help us deal with its economic fallout. Northern Ireland’s thriving life sciences sector provides both.

“Public and private enterprises are already having a positive impact on the lives of people across the country and today’s report shows there is a solid foundation for growth in the future. The message is clear: our sector is flourishing.”

A vibrant cluster of 250+ businesses, made up of a mix of international investors and local companies, is helping to establish Northern Ireland’s reputation for innovation in the health technology sector and a strong scientific research base.

Companies are attracted to Northern Ireland for a combination of reasons including skills availability and excellent infrastructure.

Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast rank among the top 10 in the UK for bioscience research, helping ensure a steady supply of high-skilled scientists needed by the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries to deliver strides in medical science.

NI also offers world-class collaborative research infrastructure, such as the £10 million Precision Medicine Centre of Excellence which is looking at how diagnostics can be used to predict a cancer patient’s response to treatment, allowing medicines to be used more efficiently.

Northern Ireland has a burgeoning Life and Health Sciences sector, which contributes over £1billion to the Northern Ireland economy per year. Given its potential for growth, my new economic recovery plan ‘Rebuilding a Stronger Economy’ identifies the sector as a priority sector for targeted future investment, so I was pleased to read the findings within the Fraser of Allander Institute report. Many of these findings are outstanding and are testament to the hard work and commitment of the companies within the sector and the globally competitive research capabilities of our two universities. As we face into a period of significant change associated with EU Exit and the potential reconfiguration of global supply chains post COVID-19, this report can be used to inform how we can build on the success of the sector.”

Diane Dodds, Minister for the Economy

As we look to rebuild our economy in the wake of COVID-19 there are only a few areas where a growth in activity, market need, and investment will flourish. The life sciences sector is certainly a focus for growth globally and having an established foundation of capability and activity here in Northern Ireland gives us a real opportunity to apply our efforts to an industry set up to drive our economic recovery."

Dr Rob Grundy, Chair of Matrix NI

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