Business Irish

Saturday 25 March 2017

A bright spark of innovation could be our lifesaver

Continuing our series where business leaders suggest ways of kickstarting the economy, Dr Paul Duffy of Pfizer wants Ireland to become the chosen location for intellectual property

'Some steps have already been taken -- including the establishment of a modern statutory framework for IP, and a recently updated IP taxation regime...'

Ireland's biopharmaceutical sector has the potential to play a significant role in the country's economic recovery. As it stands, the sector employs more than 52,000 people and is responsible for some 50 per cent of the county's exports.

However, in order for it to fulfil that potential, a clear strategy is required which will see much greater collaboration between government, clinicians, researchers, academia, companies and regulatory bodies in the future development of the industry here.

Our reputation as an excellent place to do business has remained largely untarnished by recent fiscal and economic events. This is largely due to the fact that Ireland's core strengths have remained intact -- these include our innovative and resourceful workforce, strong manufacturing and compliance track record, high educational standards, and a competitive tax regime.

However, the biopharmaceutical sector is facing a number of serious challenges and the Government's economic, health and education policies will play a major role in ensuring a sustainable industry over the next decade.

Sustainable health policies are absolutely critical in this context. At the heart of the pharmaceutical industry engine is innovation -- the discovery of new, lifesaving and life-changing medicines.

But innovation can only occur in an environment where it is rewarded through strong, intellectual property and patent protection and where a reasonable return on investment is available.

The cost of research and development in the pharmaceutical industry is measured in billions of dollars, with many promising lines of research often yielding no return.

To safeguard current employment and to build on existing investment, biopharmaceutical companies located in Ireland need to be encouraged to develop and locate intellectual property (IP) -- the commercial evidence of innovation. Some steps have already been taken, including the establishment of a modern statutory framework for IP and a recently updated IP taxation regime. These efforts should be built upon so that the task of attracting intellectual property to Ireland is addressed with the same urgency as the task of persuading companies to locate their bricks and mortar operations here.

When Ireland becomes the chosen location for intellectual property, we will have a solid platform for future high-skilled job creation.

The pipeline of new products being manufactured in Ireland must also be maintained. At present, Ireland is the key manufacturing location for many of Pfizer's leading medicines such as Prevenar 13, a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine which is manufactured at Grange Castle, and two highly innovative cancer medicines, Crizotinib and Axitinib which are manufactured in Ringaskiddy. These medicines are exported from Ireland across the globe and, as we know, it is exports that are the key to Ireland's economic recovery.

This can only happen if we remain cost competitive. The legacy of the boom still prevails and many companies still need to reduce their operating costs to recover competitiveness. Costs that need greater control include labour, energy and waste treatment.

It is only by ensuring that the fundamentals of our business operations are sound that we can protect the legacy of biopharmaceutical investment in Ireland and sustain future employment.

Ireland will benefit in other ways, too, from ensuring innovative products are manufactured here. Pressure on public finances is driving a need to achieve savings in the annual health budget. Innovative medicines and technologies can help, delivering improved patient outcomes, reducing costs in service delivery and increasing efficiencies throughout the healthcare system.

However, to deliver innovations to Ireland's health services we need to see more effective industry engagement by the HSE. Creating a central access point (for example, an innovation hub) that enables companies to engage directly with clinicians and to draw on their experiences on the frontline would greatly enhance the sector's research outputs. By working together, both the HSE and industry can benefit, delivering on growth and jobs, as well as increased value and a healthier society.

Putting the building blocks in place across industry, academia and within the HSE that supports collaboration and innovation across the sector will give Ireland a unique, competitive advantage in attracting future investment.

The Forfas Report Health LifeSciences -- An Enterprise Outlook outlined tangible steps that could be taken in this regard, including accelerating the establishment of Ireland as a test-bed for the development of silver technologies -- products and services that would act as a demonstration to international audiences of Ireland's distinctive capabilities for innovation, collaboration and convergence in care for the ageing.

For its part, the pharmaceutical industry must continue to deliver value for money to the Irish taxpayer. The industry has already delivered €500m in savings through a reduction in medicine prices of 60 per cent. The Irish State will see significant savings this year as many top medicines will no longer be patent-protected -- indeed, Pfizer's leading cholesterol-lowering medication Lipitor will come off patent in 2012, providing significant savings.

However, in common with many other sectors, the pharmaceutical industry is experiencing severe financial pressure and medicine pricing policies must be sustainable to preserve jobs and protect the supply of medicines.

I have been working in the pharmaceutical sector for close on 20 years -- and during that time I have watched with pride as Ireland became a global leader in pharmaceutical manufacturing. And today I have no doubts that the biopharmaceutical sector -- which has been the bright spot in Ireland's economy for the past number of years -- will continue to shine, creating jobs and economic wealth for Ireland in the future.

Dr Paul Duffy is vice-president in charge of external supply at Pfizer

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