US medtech giant Abbott Laboratories is investing €440 million in Ireland with plans for a major new manufacturing plant in Kilkenny and additional jobs in Donegal.

The expansion will mean the company adds 1,000 jobs to its Irish workforce and make the State a leader in the production of high-tech diabetes glucose monitoring devices.

The company’s Freestyle Libre 3 glucose monitors allow diabetes patients to avoid carrying out finger-prick tests several times a day to check glucose levels. A sensor the size of two five-cent coins attached to the back of the arm allows patients to keep track of their glucose levels.

After an initial scan, the sensor sends a glucose reading every minute to a smartphone app. The app will show that current glucose level, a trend arrow showing how your glucose level is changing and plot your last six hours of glucose readings in graph format. The app can also issue alarms if glucose levels are too low or too high. Each sensor lasts for 14 days.

Abbott said the decision to invest in Ireland comes as a result of the “rapid growth” of the company’s Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring systems, which it says are now used by more than four million people living with diabetes across more than 60 countries.

“Freestyle Libre is the number one product in the world for continuous monitoring and it continues to grow very quickly, said Jared Watkin, Abbott’s senior vice-president, diabetes care. “Clearly we need to keep up with that demand from a capacity and manufacturing investment perspective.”

Explaining the decision to bring this new plant to Ireland, he said the company had had a strong track record here over 75 years.

“We work well with the IDA and they were instrumental in finding a suitable site for us here in Kilkenny,” Mr Watkin said. “And we have had an outstanding experience with the Irish workforce … which means it is a sensible strategic investment for us to keep going back there.”

Recruitment will start immediately for jobs at what the company says will be a global manufacturing centre of excellence for the Freestyle Libre 3 system. Subject to planning approval, it hopes to open the new plant in 2024. The new jobs will be in the areas of engineering, quality control, medical device manufacturing and other science-based areas.

Approving payment
The announcement marks a significant investment in Ireland by the US group, which already employs 5,000 people across a number of businesses in all four provinces.

It also comes despite the refusal to date by Irish health authorities to approve payment for the Freestyle Libre device in patients older than 21.

Ireland, it says, is the only country in western Europe to reimburse by age rather than clinical need.

“This means that, despite diabetes being a lifelong condition, reimbursement is only available for people with Type 1 diabetes under the age of 21. It is not reimbursed for any person with Type 2 diabetes,” the company said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the investment by Abbott in Donegal and Kilkenny was hugely welcome news.

“Abbott has a long and successful history [in Ireland] and this new investment is a great vote of confidence in the workforce here, and in this country as a place to invest,” he said.

IDA Ireland executive director Mary Buckley described the announcement for a new greenfield manufacturing facility in Kilkenny as a “significant and transformative investment” and “fantastic news for the southeast region and for Ireland”.

The Irish investment is just part of a global expansion by Abbott, which is the market leader in new tech diabetes glucose monitoring systems. The group is also investing further at its site in the Oxfordshire town of Witney in England.

“With these recent expansions, Abbott now has significant production capacity across Ireland, the UK and the US,” the company said.