Saturday 20 January 2018

Government 'putting our drugs export trade at risk'

Tom Prenderville

Pharma industry slipping through our fingers, warns Austin Darragh

THE man credited with bringing the pharmaceutical industry to Ireland, Professor Austin Darragh, has warned that we are in danger of losing the €44bn export colossus due to Government indifference and the outsourcing of research to cheaper countries such as India and Japan.

"The industry is withering in front of our very eyes and we are letting it slip through our fingers. We are now at the stage where greedy competitors are eyeing it up," explained Austin Darragh, who is a medical doctor.

"The pharmaceutical industry has invested billions in Ireland, and accounts for over one third of our exports. We spent half a century fostering this industry and we are now turning our back on it."

The nub of the problem is that it is taking too long to get official approval for new medicines. To compound matters, the cash-strapped HSE is dragging its feet when it comes to purchasing new drugs. This has led to a major drop in profits in Ireland which in turn has led to the outsourcing of research in order to save money.

To bring a drug from the moment when it is first conceived to the shelf of a chemist shop can take up to 10 years and costs €300m on average in research and development.

"Basic research is the engine room of this industry; it is where the most money is invested, and wherever the research is done, the manufacturing jobs follow. That is why we now have 25,000 people working in the industry in Ireland," said Prof Darragh.

No stranger to research, Austin Darragh's involvement in the pharmaceutical industry began in 1958 when he brought Danish-owned Leo Laboratories to Ireland.

Two decades later, he set up the Irish Institute of Clinical Pharmacology to test new drugs and medicines.

Using pioneering techniques, Darragh was able to reduce the development time for new medicines from 13 years down to eight, which saved the pharmaceutical industry a fortune.

As a result, the institute became an international hub for pharmacological research and attracted the world's largest companies to our shores.

"I recognised that we needed a research-based industry and the IDA was very supportive of what we were doing. At the end of the day, innovation is the lifeblood of the pharmaceutical industry," Darragh says.

The good doctor's prescription to remedying the problem now facing our pharmaceutical industry is to go back to the past and look again at what attracted them here in the first place.

"We need to make it more attractive for them to remain here. In the past I found out what they needed, got them in and got government approval.

"We also need a speedier approval of drugs because the Eureka moment to market has now slipped to 10 years. We also need acceptance of new medicines into the national market -- and that is just not happening."

"We are only a small island and we don't want the industry manufacturing in other larger countries where they are closer to the point of consumption. On the research front, Irish universities can meet all their demands. As it is, universities are begging for the research money," he said.

Sunday Indo Business

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