• Prof. Joe Eustace
  • Prof. Mark Ferguson
  • Colm Galligan
Head of Senior Management, HRB Clinical Research Coordination Ireland, and Director, HRB Clinical Research Coordination Ireland

How is R&D advancing the Life Sciences industry in Ireland?

Clinical research promotes a successful robust health care system. It ensures access to effective new therapies, it supports professional development and thus staff retention, it is conducted to a higher quality standard than routine care and thereby enhances overall patient outcomes. It provides Irish SMEs access to clinical experts and employs an increasing workforce in Pharma, CROs and academia.

        

Why is increased investment into Ireland's research and innovation landscape so important?

Most Pharma companies route their Irish Clinical Trials through their UK offices but with Brexit it will likely either establish a separate Irish office –to Ireland’s benefit- or route research via another EU country -which will marginalize Ireland. Investing in Ireland’s clinical trial infrastructure over the next 2-3 years will impact on these decisions and our success in the next 2-3 decades.

 

How can Ireland attract further significant investment in the Life Sciences industry?

To optimize Ireland’s success in large European funded multinational projects, we must join ERIC-ECRIN, a decision under review with the Department of Health. To attract more Industry research we need to build on the work of the HRB/EI funded CRCI which provides a single national access point and sign posting service; and which is working with IPHA to standardize trial CDAs, contracts, and budgets.

Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland

How is R&D advancing the Life Sciences industry in Ireland?

As a globally recognised centre of excellence in the Life Sciences industry and with four decades of continuous investment, Ireland is the location of choice for international life sciences companies. Our achievements over the last five years have been considerable. Despite austerity we have maintained and improved the level and quality of R&D being carried out here. We are now 10th in the world for academic paper citations and have climbed higher in all of the innovation indexes. According to the Eurostat, Ireland is now the most R&D efficient country in Europe, so we have much to be proud of.

Along with the good work being carried out by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, we have collectively developed an ecosystem that is responsive and flexible, and nurtures industry-academic collaboration. We are seeing cutting-edge research being commercialised and transferred into the marketplace, producing patents and spin-outs, giving us a competitive advantage over other locations. From the Solid State Pharmaceuticals Cluster (SSPC) in University of Limerick, to the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC) at University College Cork, we are investing in world-class researchers and research teams who are innovating and generating new knowledge in areas of strategic importance to Ireland, across areas of bioscience and bioengineering such as neuroscience, immunology, biosensors and drug delivery.

The supply of young talented scientists and our ability as a country to attract star talent from overseas is also very important to the Life Science industry here. We are committed to supporting the best in emerging scientific talent in Ireland and we are already attracting some top international researchers. In 2016, six awards commenced under the SFI Research Professorship Programme, whereby internationally-renowned researchers in strategically-important areas relocated to Irish research institutions. Ireland is also the best when it comes to the number of people moving from academia into industry.

In tandem, we are continuing to develop the SFI research centres which bring together excellent researchers in Ireland and we continue to deepen industry engagements with the centres at the same time. Our 12 Research Centres have attracted over €40 million in committed cash from 394 industry contracts, which we will continue to work to leverage. During the period of austerity, we were able to optimise the system to be more efficient, which allows us to focus on outputs. This means increased investment now, can yield disproportionately higher returns. By encouraging and supporting individual members of the research community from early stages of their careers through programmes such as the SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) to leading Investigators, we are supporting and advancing industries such as Life Sciences.

 

Why is increased investment into Ireland's research and innovation landscape so important?

A new area which we will be exploring in the coming years in Science Foundation Ireland, is challenge-based research, which aims to solve particular societal challenges, with applications beyond Ireland. So, in areas like food sustainability and climate change, where Ireland is well placed to take on challenge-based research projects, we will be working to engage a wider section of society in the research agenda. We want citizens to become engaged in these challenges and work with us and the research community to set the research agenda. Increased investment will enable this work and I expect this will lead us in new directions. Developing solutions to real world problems here, gives us opportunities to lead the way in creating products and solutions with global impact, particularly into the areas where disruption is taking place.
 
The Irish Venture Capital Association (IVCA) recently released figures via their Pulse survey, published in association with William Fry this month, which indicated that venture capital in the Life Sciences is doing very well. In fact, Regina Breheny, Director General of IVCA named the Life Sciences sector as 2016’s star performer, with 52% of funds raised through venture capital. So, we can see how the State’s investment in R&D through Science Foundation Ireland is starting to pay off in bringing the sector in Ireland into maturity. This is particularly significant as venture capital activity has been declining in the US and in the UK.
 
In times of such uncertainty, innovation is probably the only place you can invest and be sure that it will pay off. Regardless of global uncertainties, if you can innovate, you have a competitive advantage. I believe that is why innovation is one of the best places to invest and needs continued support. Increased investment allows us to further develop joint research programmes with international institutes. Two funding calls of this nature were issued between Ireland and the UK in 2016. The first of these resulted in three awards, with a further seven awards made in the Second Call. The UK component is funded by the BBSRC and the Irish component by SFI.
 
Through Science Foundation Ireland’s Smart Futures programme, which promotes STEM careers to post-primary school students, we have introduced role models working in the Life Sciences sector to young people making study and career choices. This programme, which has been running in partnership with Engineers Ireland since 2013, has directly engaged over 100,000 teenagers in Ireland with STEM careers information. This education and public engagement activity plays an important role in future proofing the STEM talent pipeline, which is crucial to the Life Sciences sector in years ahead. 

 

How can Ireland attract further significant investment in the Life Sciences industry?

Our agenda is firmly based on supporting Innovation 2020, the Government’s strategy for research and development, science and technology for the next five years. It is ambitious and aims to double investment on research, development and innovation by the end of 2020. That will see us reach the European average. Increased investment which will be available under Innovation 2020 means Ireland is in a good position to make rapid progress in that period. This will facilitate more research, more PhDs being supported, more collaboration between the higher education system and industry, more EU-funded projects etc. Ultimately, it will enable greater capacity to generate accelerated economic growth.

We will continue to grow and expand international links through partnerships and collaborations with organisations in the United States, China, the United Kingdom and across Europe. By catalysing research teams in Ireland to lead and win major awards from the competitive European funding programme Horizon 2020, we will keep attention on Ireland and continue attracting investment. A new collaboration between SFI and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA, in the form of the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Programme will foster entrepreneurship amongst researchers in both countries and this will also create opportunities.

Brexit will also present us with some unique opportunities to attract excellent research talent, and we will be proactively responding to that. We will be launching a new collaborative programme with the UK shortly, with a view to further strengthening links there. Furthermore, with the aim of delivering on our Innovation 2020 commitments, Science Foundation Ireland will seek the necessary funding to develop new programmes which will be important to maintaining Ireland’s international competitiveness and positioning the country as a global research and innovation leader.
 
The launch of Science Foundation Ireland’s new #BelieveInScience campaign, which promotes the potential that science and discovery offer Ireland, today and in tomorrow’s world, makes clear our intention to work in partnership with the Irish research community to share our passion for science with the public, to create positive change in the world and to drive a sustainable economy in Ireland. In times of such global uncertainty, we want to send a message that Irish research is open for business.

 

Medical Director, MSD Ireland

How is R&D advancing the Life Sciences industry in Ireland?

Aside from the Government’s pro-enterprise policies, our pipeline of activities in life sciences is being driven by new discoveries. The industry is now beginning to reap the rewards of years of research in exciting areas of science such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics as well as harnessing the body’s own immune system in novel ways to fight diseases.

The sector in Ireland has grown from very humble beginnings in the 1960s to reach global significance. It’s increasingly seen as a top location to undertake substantial R&D activity, ranked the 8th most innovative country in the EU. In the biopharmaceutical sector for example, nine of the world’s top 10 pharma companies are based here. Indeed, we have a significant track record of clinical and academic research excellence and the Government has committed €8 billion to research funding to further bolster our reputation as a growing hub for research and development.

 

Why is increased investment into Ireland's research and innovation landscape so important?

Research and Development and providing a world-class research system is critical for the life sciences sector and advancing the innovation process.

To date, the Government’s R&D initiatives have encouraged our organization to position its sites in Ireland as development centres for our new product portfolio, and we are developing and manufacturing many of our pipeline products here also, bringing with it considerable investment. However, Ireland is facing growing competition from its European neighbours and beyond, as other countries compete for investment in this sector.

Increased R&D spending is crucial for Ireland’s future business success, allowing us to push the envelope on innovation and invest in solutions that can meet patients’ unmet medical needs.

 

How can Ireland attract further significant investment in the Life Sciences industry?

It’s important that ‘Ireland Inc' continues to nurture and foster the pharmaceutical sector, such as  creating policies that encourage the best and brightest talent from across the world to take up careers here.

Education must also evolve to keep pace with the technological advancements of our time and the syllabus should ideally match the needs of employers as well as the realities of our digital era. Work is currently being undertaken to encourage interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics STEM subjects in schools for example, and increase the number of technology and science graduates. We in MSD are very active within this area, and work with local schools and colleges on education and career projects to encourage an interest in, and focus on, STEM.

With the Irish Government’s clear ambition to make the pharmaceutical sector a cornerstone of economic growth, more could also be done to encourage clinical research in Ireland. Setting up clinical research here can be long and arduous, with significant red tape in some cases. Through the creation of a more centralised research process here, clinical trials could get off the ground early and progress. The placement of a potential dedicated research expert at national level, ideally at government level, would also cement Ireland’s position as a research and innovation hub, as would a ‘protected time’ incentive, allowing clinicians to dedicate time to such initiatives, similar to policies in other EU Member States such as the Netherlands.