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Life Science Innovation Q2 2023

Creating new and accessible medicines for current and future Irish patients

iStock / Getty Images Plus / bluebay2014

Eimear O’Leary, PhD

Director of Communications and Advocacy, IPHA

Research and development (R&D) in life sciences are creating new ways of treating disease and improving patient outcomes.

We are living through a golden era of medicine development. Advances in R&D are creating a greater understanding of disease and allowing a convergence of innovation across medicine platforms. 

mRNA advances can be used to treat several diseases 

The mRNA vaccine technology had been in production for over two decades. Covid-19 threw the spotlight on this platform technology which has exciting implications for the development of new vaccines and treatments.  

mRNA, which can teach cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response, can be used in immunotherapy to treat cancers and chronic infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and herpes. Crucially, as we learnt in recent years, it can also be developed and scaled rapidly, which is key for any future pandemics. 

Emergence of personalised medicines  

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for patients is being replaced. For some, personalised medicines are available; they use an individual’s genetic profile to help practitioners make decisions regarding the diagnosis and treatment of a disease.  

Such medicines include cell and gene therapies, which can involve a one-time treatment rather than stretching across a patient’s life — thereby not only saving lives but also reducing the cost associated with chronic illnesses. 

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for
patients is being replaced.

Technology can expand treatment options 

The next wave of technological advances in medicines development will look towards artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. They hold the potential to enhance the speed and efficiency of medicines development by bringing lifesaving medicines to patients who need them most — and faster. 

Ensuring Ireland has access to the best treatments 

Ireland is home to companies pioneering the way forward in these innovations. Through collaboration with State, we must create the right structures to allow R&D to flourish and most importantly, for Irish patients to gain access to these lifesaving medicines.  

The current commercial and manufacturing model for medicines does not cater for Advanced Therapeutic Medicinal Products (ATMPs) such as cell and gene therapies. Therefore, future technologies may suffer the same fate, which will result in poorer patient outcomes.  

Similarly, proposed changes at the EU level may stagnate R&D and innovation within Europe as countries, such as the US and China, will continue to offer better investment incentives and intellectual property protection for medicines development. We need to reform the system, drive innovation in Ireland and ensure Irish patients have access to the newest and best medicines when available.  

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