CORK’s research-based biopharmaceutical industry is strong. A county once famous for manufacturing cars, boats, tires and textiles is now one of Europe’s most important drug makers.
Companies like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Novartis, MSD, Merck, AbbVie, Gilead, LEO Pharma, GSK, Thermo Fisher and BioMarin directly employ around 10,000 people locally.
In Ireland, the latest count from the consultancy firm PwC puts the number of jobs in the biopharmaceutical industry at 45,000, with a gross value added to the economy of 15 billion euros. These figures are likely to underestimate the economic impact since they were taken before the pandemic.
The government’s most recent figures on the performance of the economy last year show a corporate tax take of more than 15 billion euros. Revenues increased by nearly 30% compared to 2020. The biopharmaceutical industry, alongside technology, largely contributed to this performance.
Covid-19 has been heartbreaking, with sickness, death and disruption to so many lives. But with vaccines and, soon, treatments to manage the severity of the disease, and a dynamic economy, there is reason to be cautious. There is reason to consider the biopharmaceutical industry as a geostrategic asset.
We live in the “bio-century”. It is a period characterized by profound innovation, with the discovery of new drugs catalyzed by the intersection of a better understanding of human biology and the new tools of technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning. .
It’s an exciting time for innovators in medicine and for students evaluating their career options.
Throughout the industry, the demand for skills is high. We are looking for individuals with expertise in a variety of areas including biotherapeutic research, bioprocess design and operations, bioanalysis, engineering, chemistry, toxicology, regulatory, licensing, business operations, digital marketing, public policy and reputation. We are looking for people with a combination of technical, teamwork and strategic thinking skills. A globally networked industry, with a mandate to translate science for the public good, should appeal to a generation eager to make a difference in the world.
This year, innovators will come up with around 35 new drugs for a range of medical conditions, including arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, spinal muscular atrophy and many forms of cancer. These drugs could treat nearly 17,500 patients.
The industry recently finalized a four-year drug supply agreement with the state. In the October budget, the government allocated €30 million for innovative new medicines, building on €50 million from the previous budget. These measures allow patients to hope for better access to the latest treatments. Much credit goes to members of the Cork Cabinet – Micheál Martin, the Taoiseach, Michael McGrath, the Minister for Public Expenditure, and Simon Coveney, the Foreign Secretary – and to Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste, and Stephen Donnelly, the Minister of Health.
We always face headwinds. We need to improve our attractiveness for clinical trials, strengthen our scientific research base, and position ourselves as a destination for manufacturing and supply chain investments in cell and gene therapies, as well as their adoption by patients.
Even though the biopharmaceutical industry is investing heavily, especially in manufacturing, there are moves, in Europe and around the world, to potentially undermine the patent system. As part of the EU pharmaceutical strategy, two key intellectual property rights are in the spotlight – the Pediatric Medicines Regulation, adopted in 2007, and the Orphan Medicinal Products Regulation, adopted in 2000. The protection of intellectual property is the basis of the discovery and development of all medicines. , vaccines and technologies. Under the Pediatric Medicines Regulation, more than 260 medicines have been developed for sick children, with a 50% increase in clinical trials between 2007 and 2016. Under the Orphan Medicines Regulation, more medicines are arrived for rare diseases.
The revision of the legislation by the European Commission is an opportunity to create a policy framework favorable to innovation.
Badly managed, it could damage Europe’s attractiveness for investment in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, just as some research and development activities have migrated from Europe to other global markets. Ireland, through its access to channels of diplomatic and political influence, should play a leadership role in protecting the global patent system.
We must also resist efforts to interfere with the free and open trade that is so crucial to the global drug supply chain. We source 76% of active pharmaceutical ingredients from Europe. The European Union is the world’s leading exporter of medicines, with a market share of 64%. We need to avoid blunt instrument policies like “reshoring” that would jeopardize supply chain resilience. It has served us well during the pandemic, with no major drug shortages.
Likewise, while industry is expected to have produced 24 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by June, wealthier countries are expected to share many more excess doses with lower-income countries. A multilateral approach is needed to help low-income countries absorb, distribute and administer Covid-19 vaccine doses to their populations. We must also address with empathy the often high rates of vaccine hesitancy in these countries. Scientists tell us to expect more regular zoonotic contagion.
We could face more variants of Covid-19. Other diseases require new treatments and remedies. Improving human health is an ongoing campaign that depends on stable intellectual property rights.
Our industry brand goal is “Innovate for Life”. Although this is the name of our flagship digital campaign, it is much more than a slogan. This means that our work changes lives for the better – and innovation is a lifelong endeavor. Let’s make sure it stays that way.