Saturday 23 September 2017

Innovation in medicines will deliver a positive outcome

Alkermes boss Richard Pops sees growth in the biopharmaceutical industry here with greater academic and industry collaboration

Richard Pops

BUILDING a biopharmaceutical company requires optimism and a deep commitment to success for the long term. So, too, does building a country's economy.

As Alkermes grows here in Ireland, it is clear that the biopharmaceutical industry and the country have important shared opportunities and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future successes of both.

Ireland has essential attributes – people and policies – which make it a fertile place to grow a strong biopharmaceutical industry. This is a solid foundation shared by few countries in the world. In the same way that we see our company's successes as harbingers of an exciting future, Ireland's standing as a world player in the biopharmaceutical industry gives the country a valuable opportunity for creating jobs and growing the Irish economy.

The biopharmaceutical industry is at a point of unprecedented growth, driven by important new insights into human biology and efficient business models. This is resulting in new medicines and approaches to treating diseases in entirely new ways.

It is an extremely complicated industry characterised by complex science, advanced manufacturing technologies, stringent regulations, long and risky development cycles and changing relationships with healthcare reimbursement systems and doctors.

However, navigating this complexity is worth it. In addition to life-changing medicines, successful companies create high-quality jobs and a network of supporting businesses that serve the life science industries.

Academic institutions are involved, providing scientific collaboration in basic research and human clinical trials. Government and regulators share in the successes, and ultimately, the true value is realised in the health of the population.

Around the globe, countries and regions are competing fiercely to attract the biopharmaceutical industry to spark economic development within their regions.

As they plant the seeds for a biopharmaceutical hub, many countries – such as Singapore, Taiwan and Russia – have begun by building infrastructure for early drug discovery and research and development components of the industry. They are starting at a great disadvantage to Ireland.

Since targeting the sector as a strategic area for development in the Sixties, Ireland has become a considered location for many of the most well-known, global companies in the pharmaceutical sector. Nine of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world have a base in Ireland, as do 20 of the top 30 medical device companies, leading the country to become the largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals in the world, worth over €5bn annually.

This is Ireland's unique platform for growth.

What is attracting biopharmaceutical companies to Ireland today? What can be done to encourage more industry growth?

The many pharmaceutical companies that have facilities located in Ireland have been attracted by the country's proven capabilities in pharmaceutical manufacturing, a collaborative and responsive Irish government, a strong intellectual property tradition, an active Industrial Development Agency (IDA), a stable, low tax rate and a highly educated and motivated Irish workforce.

The workforce is sometimes an underestimated natural resource, particularly in our industry where we need to constantly innovate. Ireland is ranked third in the world for being open to new ideas and third for flexibility and adaptability of its people.

Other countries envy this preferred status and are actively developing industrial policies designed to gain a desirable foothold in a dynamic, innovative industry.

Ireland has achieved much, which is evidenced by the companies arriving at its shores and establishing an international reputation as a country attractive for business. But more can be done.

Companies would build more infrastructure and create more jobs in Ireland if there was an even broader network of complementary and supporting capabilities that could be leveraged as biopharmaceutical companies discover, develop and manufacture new medicines.

This more expansive set of expertise could include academic and industrial collaboration to foster basic scientific research, a co-ordinated system for early and late-stage clinical trials, programmes to encourage large-scale manufacturing and innovative new models for providing patients with access to significant new medicines.

The move toward greater academic and industry collaboration is under way. Just earlier this year, Alkermes became one of a number of industry partners to provide funding as part of a €40m investment by the Government in the Synthesis & Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre (SSPC).

This is a unique collaboration between 17 companies and eight academic institutions. It is exactly this type of approach and thinking that will attract more multinational investment and support the indigenous sector's growth.

In short, Ireland has the potential to be a global centre of excellence for biopharmaceutical innovation.

The best and the brightest biopharmaceutical companies have unique attributes, and these are the companies Ireland should attract. They are the most innovative, advancing the most modern science to create highly valuable new medicines. These are the drug products that will have long patent lives and enable growth in jobs and infrastructure over the long term. These companies not only understand the scientific elements of innovation, they also recognise that their products need to create meaningful value for patients and healthcare systems.

This is not to say that an essential criterion for a new medicine should be that it saves money. Far from it – many new medicines will cost, in terms of euros, more money than the historic alternatives. However, the medicines that are true breakthroughs will deliver meaningful improvements in health for patients as well as true value for society and positive outcomes for disease treatment programmes for serious chronic conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, pain and substance abuse.

Despite the availability of existing medicines, huge opportunities remain to address critical unmet medical and economic needs for the millions of patients suffering from these major chronic diseases. More than 25 per cent of the Irish population suffers from chronic diseases that account for 80 per cent of all healthcare costs in Ireland. The diminished quality of life for these patients threatens the long-term solvency of our healthcare system.

Our vision at Alkermes is to make important contributions to improve the treatment of chronic diseases with our innovative medicines. Our future as a major biopharmaceutical company has its foundation in our Irish operations.

We want to continue to grow here and look forward to working with Irish policy makers to explore new ideas for how Ireland can capitalise on its unique performance and status in the biopharmaceutical industry.

We are proud to be an Irish company, and we are here to stay. We count ourselves among the growing number of vibrant and innovative Irish biotechnology companies that are attracted to all that Ireland has to offer.

Richard Pops is CEO at Alkermes plc

Sunday Independent

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