After Lombardy, Lazio is Italy’s second most important pharmaceuticals producer. The industry sector is one of its most important, with pharmaceutical products representing 25% of exports, a figure that has doubled from 1998 and is growing at 10% each year. About 40 drugs companies have a presence in Lazio, either a plant or headquarters, between them employing almost 18,000 people – about a quarter of the total number of those employed by the pharma industry in the whole of Italy. Half of the companies are multinationals: household names such as Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb. A domestic industry is nurtured by the region’s unstinting efforts to provide state-of-the-art research and development facilities and skilled employees.
There are historical reasons for the success of Lazio’s drugs industry. In the 1950s, the Italian government made strides to encourage development in Italy’s mezzogiorno, the south. A combination of the advantages of being close to the capital and the need for the best possible positioning logistically persuaded many companies to locate in or near Rome.
Pfizer was one such company. It established a plant in Latina (one of the five provinces that constitute the region of Lazio) in 1953 and a production site in Rome in 1956. It now produces about 1011 million units of pharmaceutical and veterinary drugs a year, including anti-fungal products and anti-depressants.
Pharmaceuticals have had a presence in Lazio for far longer, however. Serono, founded in 1904, first started production in Rome, moving its headquarters to Geneva in 1980 to be closer to the hub of the industry. The company employs about 4400 people around the world at 40 subsidiaries. In 2004, Serono, which is now a world leader for the production of fertility drugs, treatments for multiple sclerosis and growth hormones, faced the decision of where to locate a new research centre. It chose Lazio.
The decision, according to managing director Dr Antonio Messina, was less to do with sentiment than with hard economics. Not only are labour costs cheap – about half their Swiss equivalent – but the high volume of qualified and experienced technicians made staffing easier and removed the need for training. “We do not recruit straight from universities,” says Dr Messina. “Our relatively small size precludes on-the-job training, so we need staff who are already experienced.”
Serono has a strong collaborative programme with the San Raffaele Institute in Milan, a leading centre for neurobiology that it partly funds, and with research centres in Lazio. Lazio is only part of Serono’s Italian tapestry: its production facilities are further south, in Bari. However, Dr Messina says that the region is making great strides in attracting back talents that were lost during earlier “brain drains”, and that companies like Serono are benefiting as a result.
Patheon, a company that offers contract drug manufacturing and development services to other pharmaceutical and biotech companies, is also benefiting from locating and investing in Lazio. Worldwide, it employees about 5900 staff, and provides outsourcing services (from dosage form development through to commercial manufacturing and packaging, formulation and analytical development) and clinical trial material manufacturing at 14 facilities in North America and Europe, two of which are located in Italy.
Antonella Mancuso, vice-president of Patheon, says that the company’s plant in Ferentino was established in February 2002 following its acquisition from Biomedica Foscama, and subsequent restructuring. It entered into production in October that year. It already had an Italian production facility at Monza in Lombardy. The Ferentino plant “was targeted for acquisition because of its strategic location, which allowed us to take advantage of the pharmaceutical labour pool within the area”, says Ms Mancuso in an interview with fDi. “The plant also offered Patheon a valuable and new lyophilisation capacity.”
According to Ms Mancuso, everything about Lazio pointed to a good fit. “Within the region, there is a strong pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical presence supported by Rome University, which offers courses and collaborations that complement the characteristics of the area. Many of our suppliers are also in the Lazio region, which aids supply chain management.”
A high standard of secondary school education makes Lazio a good place to recruit, says Ms Mancuso, as does the existence of a pharma industry cluster in which technical staff are able to gain experience at a number of companies.
The fact that industry in the region is generally technologically sophisticated was more than an added bonus, says Ms Mancuso: Patheon needed all the necessary links in the supply chain to be present if its facility was to be a success. “We work with several locally based affiliations that support our production processes in terms of compounding and piping structures in stainless steel and/or glass. In addition, we utilise logistical/distribution services for raw materials and finished product to support our client needs.”
Ms Mancuso says that there are several high-calibre consultant engineering services in the Lazio region that can support Patheon on a daily basis, meeting its instrument and equipment calibration requirements – high-tech services that require sophisticated skill sets. And some of the incentives that the regional government offers, including subsidised capital expenses and a sympathetic regime, were also decisive factors, she says.
Keeping the region at the top of the pharmaceutical game is the key responsibility of Maria Ruffilli, managing director of Farmindustria, the pharmaindustry’s trade association. “The regional authorities are giving a great deal of attention to the employment opportunities that the pharmaceutical industry opens up,” she says.
“After the regional presidential elections, we started discussing with the new president how we could work together to make sure that the industry maintains its presence in the region, with the consequence that we are working jointly on a protocol, to be signed by the government and industry that will recognise the importance of the industry to the region, attract investors and modernise healthcare and drug policies.”
Ms Ruffili says that the practical manifestations of this partnership between regional government and industry will include an increase in the volume of clinical trials (in the past five years, about 33% of the clinical trials conducted in Italy have been held in Lazio), and looking at how production and logistics facilities can be kept up to date. She says that she believes it is vital to foster an understanding, even among schoolchildren, of the benefits of research to the region’s culture, economy and identity if Lazio is to maintain its reputation as one of the major players in Italian and European pharmaceutical production.