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How to keep growing Italy’s diverse pharmaceutical sector

Italy has scientists working across biomedicine. Farmindustria helps ensure that the industry’s high standards are maintained.Credit: Shutterstock

The pharmaceutical industry in Italy employs more than 66,500 staff in 170 sites, and contributes around 2% of Italy’s GDP, particularly from its exports. Founded in 1978 as the association representing the pharmaceutical industry in Italy, Farmindustria’s membership comprises 200 Italian and foreign-owned pharmaceutical companies operating in the country. It aims to foster cooperation among all stakeholders in health-care and life sciences, while maintaining the industry’s high standards. Massimo Scaccabarozzi is proud of the recent expansion of the pharmaceutical industry in Italy, and Farmindustria’s role in encouraging young people to join it.

What is Farmindustria’s role in the Italian pharma industry?

The Italian pharmaceutical industry is a trusted European manufacturing hub, thanks to our people, their clinical expertise, and our growing links with researchers worldwide. Our organization acts as a bridge between all aspects of the industry, linking expertise in the public sector with that in the private sector. The pharmaceutical industry across the world has opened up in recent years, moving from a closed, in-house design and manufacturing model to one of national and international collaboration. We have embraced this open innovation model and we are forging an excellent communication network between academia, hospitals, and private companies.

How does Farmindustria facilitate networking?

Massimo Scaccabarozzi, president of Farmindustria

A recent concept is an online technology platform called Innovation Flow, built with the Italian Society of Pharmacology, and aimed at facilitating interactions between researchers and companies. When a researcher or medical professional has an idea for a project, they can go to the platform, set up a discussion space to present their idea, and connect with companies who might be interested in working with them. It is designed to help disseminate ideas, kickstart collaborations, and bring concepts to fruition.

What are the strengths of Italian pharma?

Our industry has grown rapidly in the last five years – our production value is now €34 billion and exports are up 65% since 2015. We have scientists working in many areas of pharmacology, from the development of cancer immunotherapies to treatments for neurological disorders. One of our leading areas is biotechnology and biologics – drugs that are developed from components of living organisms, such as proteins produced by the body. We are also investing in digital innovation in medicine, along with precision medicine and tailored therapies. We are working closely with the education sector to showcase pharma as a career path and encourage young people to join the industry.

How is Farmindustria supporting STEM education in Italy?

Investing in our future is crucial, and young people are at the heart of this. Our industry is more diverse in terms of skills required than people might first realise. For a future healthcare system based on digital technologies, we need to entice data scientists, and machine-learning and cybersecurity experts to work in our sector, alongside those with traditional pharma-based degrees. To help encourage interest in pharma, and to demonstrate the diverse skills we need, we have established a three-year training programme designed to link students (aged 14–18 years) with our pharma companies. Through the programme, school students undertake work placements to learn about the industry, the different jobs available, and what it is like to work in a lab. They gain insight into the knowledge and skills they will need to work in our sector, so that they can study the required subjects. We’re hoping to generate enthusiasm and a willingness to work in pharma. Further up the education system, we’re working closely with universities to ensure that their courses tie in, and we aim to guarantee jobs for new graduates.

How has COVID-19 affected the pharma industry in Italy?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most significant challenge we have ever faced. We closely watched events in China at the start of 2020, and in February we developed a coherent plan with associated task forces in place. This was organized in tandem with key institutions such as the Ministry of Health and the Italian Medicines Agency to ensure that our industry would be able to cope should the virus reach our country. Throughout the lockdown, our industry carried on, ensuring supply chains and production did not falter. In March and April, there was no backlog in our production and we exported our products as normal, in spite of COVID-19 hitting Italy hard. I am very proud of all our members for their unwavering commitment.

Are there any long-term goals?

Perhaps the most important challenge is working towards fundamental changes to our medical system. Patients deserve a holistic approach that takes their circumstances and health status into account throughout their lives. Medicines are not just a product to boost the economy; they are integral to holistic healthcare and crucial to address the Sustainable Development Goals. They prolong life for critically ill patients and improve quality of life for millions every year. The COVID-19 pandemic has surely demonstrated that investment in healthcare represents huge value.


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