Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Homegrown success keeps expanding

A short history of Almac

Sir Allen McClay addresses NI secondary school teachers during a recent visit to Almac HQ, Craigavon, Co. Armagh.

PHARMACEUTICAL company Almac, one of Northern Ireland's most prominent homegrown successes, employs nearly 3,000 people in Craigavon and the US.

It is involved in all stages of drug-making, from research to pharmaceutical and clinical development and, ultimately, commer cialisation of product.

The company was founded by pharmacist-turned-entrepreneur Sir Allen McClay (below) – the name is taken from the first syllables of his first name and surname.

The well-loved philanthropist experienced his first business success with the drugs company Galen, Northern Ireland's first £1bn company, which he set up in 1968 and floated on the stock markets in London and Dublin the late 1990s.

Following the flotation, and when Galen took over US company Warner Chilcott in 2000, Sir Allen feared that some jobs could be moved from Craigavon to the US. In response, he bought out some of the divisions of Galen and created Almac.

Today the company has grown to encapsulate 12 subsidiaries in biotechnology and pharmaceutical with around 600 clients altogether.

In the last few years, turnover has grown from £251m to £275m, and pre-tax profit was £18.6m in the year to September 2011.

Sir Allen died three years ago, and since his death, the company has been led by chief executive Alan Armstrong.

It spends heavily on research and development, with one subsidiary, Almac Discovery, concentrating on researching drugs for cancer patients.

It has also worked hard to establish links with Northern Ireland's universities, and recently announced a successful knowledge-transfer partnership with Queen's to transfer fermentation and molecular/microbiology expertise from the university to the company.

The company has been leading the way in establishing Northern Ireland as a centre for the health and social care sector, and it seems its growth knows no limits. The recent Economy and Jobs Initiative Task And Finish Group document said that the health and social care (HSC) sector spends almost £4.5bn annually, provides for 9% of the workforce and generates almost 10% of total economic output.

The pharmaceutical and chemicals sector has also expanded by around 22% over the last four years, becoming one of Norther Ireland's few recession-defying industries.