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RESEARCH AND QUALITY: THE ITALIAN PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY CONFIRMS ITS TOP RANKING
It ranks third in Europe for the number of people it employs (69,500); in the year 2008, it invested a total of 2.3 billion Euros (1.3 billion in research, and 1.1 billion in plant and machinery), and it exports 53% of its production. These are the significant figures with relation to the pharmaceutical sector: truly a shining light within the firmament of Italian industry. It does indeed exemplify a model of virtue in all respects. As Sergio Dompé, Chairman of Farmindustria explained: “We are a sector which invests more than 500 thousand Euros in job creation. We represent the knowledge economy in its purest state.”
It is no accident that exports make up more than half the sector’s production. As Chairman Dompé emphasised, with a great degree of satisfaction: “We made an enormous effort to increase our level of exports from 10% in 1991 to the 50% it is today”. He went on to explain: “Here in Italy we have the skills, the technicians, and a high-profile production system. For example, we can offer top quality machinery for the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in the field of packaging, where you can find some companies who export more than 90% of their production.” Exports in the pharmaceutical sector account for 37% of Italian exports of hi-tech goods.
However, the ravages of the economic crisis have not spared even this sector, although the consequences have been less severe than those experienced elsewhere. The head of Farmindustria explained the situation: “Although we are experiencing a growth in consumption at the same time as a fall in profits, we can honestly say that the crisis is not threatening our sector, because the market is inelastic”.
Nonetheless, the general economic situation impacts indirectly, and the sector has to make extra efforts to maintain its present level of excellence. As Dompé pointed out: “The challenge at the moment consists in getting new research projects off the ground”. This objective is not easy to attain: pharmaceutical research and development requires a lot of time, with test phases that can last for up to 15 years. With timeframes of this sort, it becomes extremely difficult to find investors, especially during this period of crisis, when short-term interests tend to prevail over future hopes for realising generous profits. However, with the support of an industrial policy to aid development, this is a challenge that the Italian pharmaceutical industry is eminently capable of overcoming. This is a sector where nothing is left to chance, and in recent years it has assigned a primary role to its research efforts. Within the industry, there are now 6,230 specialists (about 9% of the workforce) engaged in research and development, nearly a thousand more than in 2002. In addition, the number of bio-tech companies working in the health sector has doubled in the last ten years and currently numbers just under 200.
The pharmaceutical sector therefore seems to possess all the attributes necessary to be considered a champion of Italian industry: an increasing trend towards specialisation, a strong export drive and the ability to manufacture life-enhancing products made from first-class ingredients. These ingredients include intangible as well as tangible elements: that is to say, the knowledge and skills of human resources.